Is Ghostbusters really about “nothing”? In other words, does it lack subtext which ultimately makes it about more than three academic outcast busting ghost? I think there is an answer and it’s quite simple, it’s also why the original film seems to resonate more with Millennial men than older generations.
The movie introduces us to three men, all of whom work at the same University investing a ghost sighting at the NYC library. Each one has a different personality and all three work well for the story being told. Peter is the outgoing, sarcastic, skeptical one. Egon is the straight-laced, somber scientist with a bias towards the paranormal. Ray is the giant man-child, with a clear bias in the supernatural, evidence by his bursting into Peter’s office, like a kid at Christmas over a ghost sighting.
There is where the beginning of the subtext start to take hold, which is subtle, yet there and I think misunderstood as being less of a character flaw than something like, believing in ghost for instance.
Ray is the man who is afraid to grow and face the real world. It may not seem it, but it’s ever present throughout the movie, instead of in your face. It is called subtext after and subtext isn’t an IPA.
The next exchange we see regarding Ray’s fear of adulthood is a conversation with Peter over being kicked out of the university. “You never worked in the private sector before, I have, they expect results.” Cements his fear of going back into the “adult” world, that he was a part of and didn’t really fare too well. Following the heels of this scene we get the exchange “I grew up in that home, you didn’t even bargain with the guy!” once again the language leads us to believe that he is fearful of growing up.
I notice that most millennial men who enjoy this movie are often much like Ray. They have toy collections, they’re very much the embodiment of the Peter Pan complex.
Back to the movie, we’re developing the theme of Ray’s childhood fear, authority is the antagonist, more so than Gozer. This is a very child mentality were a US vs Them against authority comes into play. Walter Peck might be dick less, but he has a job to do and is an adult voice of reason. The mayor is a voice of reason, the university is the voice of reason.
Peter is clearly not a man-child, just kind of lazy. He does all the active work in the Ghostbusters movie, a sign of lack of maturity is passivity. Ray and Egon have no interpersonal skills and it shows, since Peter is the “father” figure of the group and a horrible one at that. Egon might be just an awkward introvert, but Ray just cannot be bothered. He couldn’t even contain himself from sliding down the pole at the showing of their future headquarters.
Even Ray’s cigarette smoking is, subliminally, showing us he is a child as by the second movie he choose more “mature” forms of tobacco and while tobacco use of any kind is really a horrible choice, given the time period a pipe and a cigar had different connotations than cigarette smoking.
A huge part of everyone’s story, but Ray’s is a woman in their life. Peter has Dana, Egon has the sexually aggressive Janie Melitz, but Ray has a wet dream, normally associated with adolescence, about a ghost.This is typical male fear of intimacy.
Once we get to the ending, where the Ghostbusters fight Gozer, we are seeing the conclusion of Ray’s whole character arc. He chooses the form of the Statepufft Marshmallow Man as the destructor, now it is his litteral childhood he is facing down. “It just popped in there.” and “I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood, something that could never, ever possibly destroy us: Mr. Stay-Puft”
The destruction of Stay-Puft is the conclusion of Ray’s character arc. All for come back to a hero’s welcome, but with Ray seeming more contemplative and somber after it all, as the credits roll.
This was Ray’s rebirth, where this whole adulting thing is not as bad as Ray had feared and he takes it into the second movie with him.
This ultimately makes the whole movie about Ray, growing up and conquering your fears in order to become something ultimately much greater.