My favourite film aged 12: Ghost

Thrillingly, Patrick Swayze’s quest to reach out from the afterlife was rated 15 – an irresistible, illicit mix of sex, death and priapic pottery

When you’re 12 the main thing you want to be is 13. You’re desperate to be older. Desperate to grow up. This feeling is particularly acute when you have older siblings. (I’m the youngest of three.) You see them doing exciting teenage stuff like going to the pub and watching inappropriate films and you think: “I want a piece of that.” Since any attempt to join them in the pub was rightly met with an invitation to “sod off”, watching inappropriate films it was. In those days (the late 90s), inappropriate films were harder to come by. Among the many tapes we had in the house, one in particular was just the right amount of unsuitable for a small boy – the incomparable Ghost, which was thrillingly rated 15.

A strange mix of horror, comedy, romance and thriller, Ghost doesn’t fit easily into any genre. At various moments during its two-hour runtime, it is terrifying, ridiculous, sexy, hilarious, cheesy and poignant – an alluring mix for a boy reaching puberty. For the first 20 minutes it could be a Richard Curtis romcom (although it came out in 1990 before any Richard Curtis romcoms). An attractive young couple – Sam (Patrick Swayze) and Molly (Demi Moore) – move into a new apartment, say “Ditto” instead of “I love you” and do unspeakable things with pottery. (Imagine The Great Pottery Throw Down, except Keith Brymer Jones has a semi.)

Looking back on the film now, however, there are signs from the beginning that Sam and Molly’s world isn’t as charmed as it appears. Footage of a plane crash plays ominously on the TV and there’s a scene in which Sam, full of youth and promise, leaps out of a precarious top-floor window to retrieve the statue of an angel that’s being hoisted into their apartment. It’s a moment that neatly exemplifies the arrogant exuberance of youth: when you’re young, death is seemingly so remote that it isn’t scary, it’s thrilling. Laughing at death makes you feel alive, which is usually fine – unless you happen to be the main protagonist in a film called Ghost.

Sam, and all his hopes, dreams and potential, are gone in an instant when he’s killed in an apparent mugging while walking back from the theatre with Molly. The ensuing scene in which Sam comes to terms with being dead was so scary I had to fast forward through it every time. Then there’s the bit where he wakes up in bed and you think everything’s fine, but, instead of Molly next to him, it’s the crumbling face of the angel statue. We’re not in Richard Curtis territory any more.

The rest of the film is ghost Sam’s quest – with the help of a film-stealing Whoopi Goldberg, who plays reluctant medium Oda Mae Brown – to find out who killed him and why. Spoiler alert! It turns out Sam’s best friend, Carl, organised the whole thing in a money-laundering ploy gone wrong. If you’re worried whether Carl gets his comeuppance, fear not because not only does he get killed by a shard of glass, his soul is then dragged to hell by screaming shadows. That’ll learn him. This is the captivating thing about Ghost. It goes from moments of slapstick comedy – such as when Oda Mae and an invisible Sam visit a bank – to bloodcurdling demonic abduction. From romcom to The Exorcist without a breath.

The final scene is as saccharine as anything in cinema and yet, to late-90s me (and even now), it’s utterly irresistible. As an orchestral version of Unchained Melody begins, heaven opens up, shining the light of God on Sam as he becomes visible to Molly. Just before he joins the angels, there’s time for a quick interdimensional smooch and the immortal line: “It’s amazing, Molly – the love inside, you take it with you.”

The truth is I cry a lot more at that final scene now than I ever did when I was younger. At 12, I loved Ghost for the thrill of watching something I wasn’t really supposed to: I enjoyed the feeling of being older, watching grownups deal with grownup things such as sex and death. Most of all I loved it because my brother also loved it and that meant I got to spend time with him. Two uninterrupted hours together before I resumed my rightful place as an annoying little shit.


Contributor

Edward Tew

The GuardianTramp

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