For those of you that don’t know, Erin Gilbert is one of the leading ladies of the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters. Set in New York City, the plot follows Erin and her friends’ attempts to study and prove the existence of ghosts – oh, and prevent the apocalypse while they’re at it. The film was at the centre of a certain amount of controversy since it was announced, with some people questioning why there needed to be a reboot of such a successful franchise, and some other people using that as an opportunity to air some pretty worrying views about women. Regardless, the reboot was certainly one of the most talked-about films of 2016, wobbling a bit at the box office but being well-received by critics. Erin herself is at the centre of all this, love her or hate her.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
For the most part, Erin is in control of her own destiny. She decides to confront Abby about the book they wrote together, then to join up with her as a professional ghost hunter, and then to try and prevent the ghost-pocalypse. Sometimes her hand is forced – whether that’s by her being fired from her job, the other Ghostbusters’ actions or the interference of the mayor and the villain – but that’s pretty normal. She still has moments where she gets to decide where she goes and what she does, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
You could class Erin’s hobbies as ghost-hunting and science, but to be honest I think that’s cheating, as that’s also her job. With those off the table, there isn’t much else to go on in terms of her hobbies, but her goals and beliefs are much more clearly defined. Erin clearly believes that professional acclaim and recognition are very important, and is prepared to put those above other concerns in her life. Her goals are to be recognised for her scientific work (simply completing it is not enough), to prove the existence of ghosts, and to prevent New York from being sucked into a big swirly green cloud-vortex.
SCORE SO FAR: 2
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Erin is a remarkably consistent character. She’s intelligent, awkward, sincere, uptight, craves acceptance and recognition for her work and can be quite conservative. Where her skills are concerned, she’s also shown to be a brilliant physicist, clearly explaining concepts to the audience and the other Ghostbusters alike. She definitely passes this round.
SCORE SO FAR: 3
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
An uptight, conservative physicist who craves recognition decides to make her living from hunting ghosts instead.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Erin doesn’t really have a love life, but that’s not for want of trying. She has a massive crush on the Ghostbusters’ receptionist, Kevin, but that doesn’t really go anywhere as he doesn’t like her back. But even that doesn’t affect many of her decisions – most of the time what motivates her is the desire for professional recognition or preventing the ghost-pocalypse. I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Over the course of the film, Erin learns to let go of her need for professional recognition. At the beginning of the film she’s working at Columbia University and is desperate for a tenured position, to the point where she’s constantly looking for approval from Charles Dance.
As the film goes on she still looks for approval, and actually puts her team in danger to get it – she opens up a ghost trap to convince a prominent sceptic that ghosts are real, and it really doesn’t end well. She’s very upset when the mayor announces that their work can never be publicly acknowledged for fear of causing a panic. But as the film goes on, and Erin gets her hands dirty by fighting ghosts and preventing an apocalypse, she starts needing less approval and actually ends up feeling mostly comfortable with the mayor’s arrangement. It’s small-scale stuff, but I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 6
- Does she have a weakness?
Erin has a number of weaknesses – she’s awkward, she’s uptight, she has no idea how to appropriately express romantic feelings for someone but most of all, she craves the approval and acceptance of her peers. This does get her into trouble, as I discussed above, and it’s something she has to work against for the whole film.
SCORE SO FAR: 7
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Erin’s a driving force on the plot. She’s always involved in the action, whether she’s reconnecting with old friends or hunting ghosts. She forces the plot forward at every turn, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 8
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Erin doesn’t really interact with gender stereotypes much. She’s a brilliant, focussed academic, and later a ghost hunter who gets repeatedly dowsed in ectoplasm and chased through creepy buildings. Her appearance is occasionally mentioned, but only in the context of her ridiculously conservative dress standards, which she often worries about being too sexy. Her love life isn’t a feature – she has a crush on the receptionist but it doesn’t go anywhere, and she doesn’t go crazy or hold a grudge because of that. These aren’t traits you usually see in female characters. It’s very refreshing for the genre as well – if there’s a woman in an average ghost-hunting story (particularly one that was produced before Buffy came out), she’s most likely to be cast in the roles of helpless victim or mysterious psychic. It’s nice to see that isn’t the case here.
SCORE SO FAR: 9
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Erin has a bunch of relationships with other female characters. She reconnects with her old friend Abby, resolving their differences to fight ghosts together. She strikes up a cautious friendship with Holtzmann – not because she doesn’t like her, but because she’s afraid she might blow things up.
She becomes friends with Patty, and seems a little shy of her – but unfortunately this relationship isn’t really developed as much as it could be, and we don’t see much more of it than that. She also butts heads with Jennifer Lynch, the aide from the mayor’s office, about support and funding for the Ghostbusters, and eventually develops a working relationship with her. I have to say, I think it’s slightly odd that Erin’s relationships with women of colour aren’t given anywhere near as much time and attention as her relationships with other white women, but I’m sincerely hoping that this is due to constraints of screen time. Regardless of these potentially unfortunate implications, she does have a range of different relationships with different women, so I’ll give her the point.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10
Congratulations, Paul Feig! Erin is a very well-rounded character with a range of goals and beliefs, strengths and weaknesses, and a solid amount of character development. She’s firmly in control of her destiny, isn’t completely defined by gender stereotypes or her love life, and has a series of different relationships with different women. She’s certainly passed my test!
Erin’s a very well-developed character, as are most of the women in Ghostbusters, and I have to say I think it’s a real shame that this has been eclipsed by all the controversy surrounding the film. While it’s true the film isn’t perfect, its humour isn’t for everyone and it draws heavily on the original, I think it’s still worth a look. You can tell that some real time and effort has been put into this film and it would be a pity if that doesn’t get recognised. Feel free to disagree with me if you like (after all, this blog is just my opinion every week), but I think the new Ghostbusters has a lot going for it. It’ll never replace the original, but you still might find yourself enjoying it. If you haven’t yet seen it, I’d strongly recommend that you do – if only to make up your own mind!
Next week, I’ll be looking at another one of the classics – Les Miserables. Eponine, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.