PETER: As a friend I have to tell you: you've finally gone round the bend on this ghost business. You guys have been running your ass off meeting and greeting every schizo in the five boroughs who says he has a paranormal experience. What have you seen?
Venkman might have a PhD in parapsychology, but he begins the movie as a real skeptic when it comes to all things paranormal. It seems like the script wisely uses Peter as a vehicle to voice audience skepticism in the whole ghost-y thing. Sometimes when a character voices the questions that audiences are thinking, it makes the wilder plot points easier for the masses to swallow.
EGON: I wouldn't say the experience was totally wasted. According to these new readings, I think we have an excellent chance of actually catching a ghost and holding it indefinitely.
RAY: Well, this is great! If this ionization rate is constant for all ectoplasmic entities, we could really bust some heads! In a spiritual sense, of course.
PETER: Spengs? You serious about this catching a ghost?
EGON: I'm always serious.
Not only does Ghostbusters mix the world of ghosts with the world of religion, it slips a big whopping dose of science in there too. All through the movie we get this kind of techno-babble from Egon and Ray. Throughout they find the science in what the world previously thought was superstition.
RAY: Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night?
EGON: Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic?
PETER: Have you or any of your family ever seen a spook, specter or ghost?
RAY: If the answer is yes, then don't wait another minute. Pick up your phone and call the professionals.
PETER, RAY, EGON: Ghostbusters!
This is from the Ghostbusters cheese-ball TV commercial, which feels like a bad ad for a plumber or exterminator. It's worth pointing out that a lot of the laughs in the movie come when it mixes the supernatural with the everyday. Incidentally, part of Aykroyd's original concept was that he wanted to make a movie about guys who were like exterminators, but for ghosts.
PETER: Well, okay. I found the name Zuul for you. The name Zuul refers to a demi-god worshipped around 6000 BC by the—what's that word?
PETER: Hittites, the Mesopotamians and the Sumerians.
DANA: Zuul was the minion of Gozer. What's Gozer?
PETER: Gozer was very big in Sumeria. Big guy.
Is it us, or is this where the movie starts to get really weird... and cooler? We're not just dealing with the ghosts of dead humans, we're dealing with ancient gods, which we later learn are sort of evil super-beings from another dimension. It's kind of great how the movie continues to expand its supernatural world.
EGON: Well. Let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. According this morning's sample, it would be a Twinkie thirty-five feet long weighing approximately six hundred pounds.
WINSTON: That's a big Twinkie.
Again, we get a good laugh here when Egon's supernatural techo-babble is butted up an everyday thing—in this case a Twinkie. It's pretty masterful how Aykroyd and Ramis conveniently place a character with questions whenever the screenwriters need to explain some of their more far-out concepts. Somehow this Twinkie analogy makes us totally buy into the idea of a massive buildup of psychokinetic energy threatening NY.
WINSTON: Hey, Ray, do you believe in God?
RAY: Never met him.
WINSTON: Yeah, well I do. And I love Jesus's style, you know.
Besides the early shout out to St. Jerome, it's been a while since we've had a Biblical reference. After this point, the movie has a bunch of them. Another thing to think about here is the irony that Ray had faith that ghosts existed for years, but for whatever reason is skeptical about the existence of God.
WINSTON: Hey, Ray. Do you remember something in the Bible about the last days, when the dead would rise from the grave?
RAY: I remember Revelation 7:12. And I looked, as he opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became as black as sackcloth. And the moon became as blood.
WINSTON: And the seas boiled and the skies fell.
RAY: Judgment Day.
WINSTON: Judgment Day.
RAY: Every ancient religion has its own myth about the end of the world.
WINSTON: Myth? Ray, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we've been so busy lately is because the dead have been rising from the grave?
It seems like the movie basically has three threads of the supernatural world running through it. We've got the world of ghosts, Christianity, and Gozer-worship. This is first place in the movie that weaves all three together, with Ray and Winston theorizing that all religions have similar Doomsday myths and that many include the dead rising from the grave. It's pretty great how organically the script connects the dots here.
EGON: After the First World War, Shandor decided that society was too sick to survive. And he wasn't alone. He had close to a thousand followers when he died. They conducted rituals up on the roof, bizarre rituals intended to bring about the end of the world, and now it looks like it may actually happen!
Where most religions look to the supernatural world for salvation, redemption, or peace, Gozer-worshipers look to it to totally obliterate everything. To the Gozer cult, the world is too corrupt to survive and needs to be destroyed.
RAY: What he means is Old Testament biblical, Mr. Mayor. Real wrath-of-God-type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling!
EGON: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes! Volcanoes!
WINSTON: The dead rising from the grave!
PETER: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!
The movie gives us a scenario in which the Biblically predicted Doomsday doesn't come from any Christian figures, but instead from a god of some forgotten religion. What should we take from this? Could it be that all religions are inspired by the same super-powerful beings? Is Gozer supposed to be another version of Satan? The movie doesn't got into details so we're left to come up with our own theories.
DEAN YEAGER: No! You're being moved off campus. The board of regents has decided to terminate your grant. You are to vacate these premises immediately.
PETER: This is preposterous. I demand an explanation.
DEAN YEAGER: Fine. The university will no longer continue any funding of any kind for your group's activities.
When we first meet our Ghostbusters-to-be they're having some serious money troubles. In some ways, the whole movie is a classic rags-to-riches kind of story. We also don't miss the irony here that they lose their funding right after they've just had their first real ghost sighting at the library. Maybe, they should've brought Dean Yeager down to that haunted library?
RAY: Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities. We didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there. I've worked in the private sector. They expect results.
PETER: For whatever reasons, Ray, call it fate. Call it luck. Call it karma. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that we were destined to get thrown out of this dump.
Here, the movie suggests that the world of academia can be a bit cushier than the for-profit world of business. Venkman brushes aside Ray's worries, though. Our guess is that Peter is already cooking up the scheme to make some cash off of this ghost thing.
PETER: You're never going to regret this, Ray!
RAY: My parents left me that house! I was born there!
PETER: You're not going to lose the house. Everybody has three mortgages nowadays.
RAY: But at nineteen percent! You didn't even bargain with the guy!
EGON: Ray, for your information, the interest rate alone for the first five years comes to $95,000.
Ray is the one who takes the serious financial risk to fund the Ghostbusters—and it's a serious risk. Even though a lot of the movie is about far-out supernatural theories, it constantly keeps its characters grounded in everyday concerns. Some audiences want to root for heroes who have the same kinds of problems as them.
PETER: Will you guys relax? We are on the threshold of establishing the indispensable defense science of the next decade. Professional paranormal investigations and eliminations. The franchise rights alone will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.
It's kind of hard to miss how Peter's motivation for starting the Ghostbusters is purely financial. Talk about a long shot, right? Ghostbusting? Even Amway is a safer bet.
RAY: Uh, this magnificent feast here represents the last of the petty cash.
The magnificent feast that Ray refers to here is some cheap Chinese food. Things look pretty bleak for our boys at this point in the story, though their fortunes quickly turn when they go bust Slimer in the hotel just after this. All through the early parts of the movie, the Ghostbusters' financial woes are used to up the stakes of their quest to bust ghosts.
PETER: Now, Let's talk seriously, now. For the entrapment, we're gonna have to ask you for four big ones. Four thousand dollars for that. But we are having a special this week on proton charging and storage of the beast, and that's only going to come to one thousand dollars, fortunately.
HOTEL MANAGER: Five thousand dollars? I had no idea it would be so much. I won't pay it.
PETER: Well, that's all right! We can just put it right back in there.
Funny how things have changed since the 80's, right? $5,000 actually seemed like a reasonable price to charge for a bunch of broke dudes trying to run a business in New York City. Also, don't miss how the boys aren't afraid to use a threat to get what they want here. They're desperate for cash, and they'll do what they have to get it.
JANINE: Do you believe in UFOs, astral projection, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trans-mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis?
WINSTON: If there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say.
When Winston first starts with the Ghostbusters, it's not about anything but money. The guy needs a job, even it does mean facing off with the undead. Over the course of the movie, as the situation gets worse and worse, it becomes less and less about money for Winston and more about saving the city.
WOMAN AT PARTY: Do you have any Excedrin or Extra Strength Tylenol?
LOUIS: Gee, I think all I got is this cedacelacytic acid. Generic. See, I can get six hundred tablets of that for the same price as three hundred of the name brand. Makes good financial sense. Good advice. Hey, this is real smoked salmon from Nova Scotia, Canada, $24.95 a pound. It only cost me $14.12 after tax, though. I'm giving this whole thing as a promotional expense. That's why I invited clients instead of friends.
An accountant, Louis seems to only be able to talk about money. Here, we see that it's his idea of fun party conversation. Everybody in this movie is so focused on cash that we wonder if the sickness that followers of Gozer saw in the world is somehow related how materialistic society has become.
PETER: You're gonna endanger us, you're gonna endanger our client. The nice lady who paid us in advance before she became a dog.
What's interesting about this line is the subtext. Peter isn't worried about Dana for financial reasons at all; he's worried about her as a person. The character has come from starting the Ghostbusters for profit to really caring about their mission and in particular their mission to save Dana—ever if she's turned into a demon dog.
LOUIS: Who are you guys?
RAY: We're the Ghostbusters.
LOUIS: Who does your taxes?
One of the major patterns in comedies is for characters to go back to making the same mistakes in the end that they were making in the beginning. Here, Louis goes right back to focusing on money, even though he's just been though some pretty extreme supernatural circumstances.
DEAN YEAGER: Dr. Venkman, we believe that the purpose of science is to serve mankind. You, however, seem to regard science as some kind of dodge or hustle. Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy and your conclusions are highly questionable. You, Dr. Venkman, are a poor scientist.
The Dean is the first authority figure who Peter rubs the wrong way, but totally won't be the last. All through the movie, Venkman rebels against the powers-that-be. Of course, the funny thing here is that the Dean is right; Venkman is a sham of a scientist.
PECK: And may I see this storage facility?
PECK: And why not, Mr. Venkman?
PETER: Because you did not use the magic word.
PECK: What is the magic word, Mr. Venkman?
And now Peter decides it'd be fun to antagonize the EPA agent, really for no good reason. Yeah, Peck is kind of uptight and annoying, but it seems like Peter is rebelling against authority here just because he thinks its funny. It's kind of a personality flaw in Venkman that ends up having pretty dire consequences.
PECK: I want to know more about what you do here! Frankly, there have been a lot of wild stories in the media and we want to assess for any possible environmental impact from your operation! For instance, the presence of noxious, possibly hazardous waste chemicals in your basement! Now you either show me what is down there or I come back with a court order.
PETER: You go get a court order! And I'll sue your ass for wrongful prosecution.
Once again, Peck is a jerk, but it's not like the EPA doesn't have a right to be concerned about what the Ghostbusters are up to. Even Egon is worried that their containment grid might blow. Sure, this government regulator is a bad guy, but he does have some pretty legit concerns.
PETER: What happened?
POLICE CAPTAIN: Some moron brought a cougar to a party and it went berserk.
Throughout the movie, the police are shown as totally incapable of maintaining law and order. The idea of a demonic demi-god from another dimension on the loose is so far out of the Police Captain's frame of reference that he's pretty useless.
DANA: Are you the Keymaster?
PETER: Yes. I'm a friend of his. He told me to meet him here. I didn't get your name.
DANA: I am Zuul. I am the Gatekeeper.
Looks like even in Gozer-land there are rules. For reasons the movie never quite explains, there has to be a Keymaster and a Gatekeeper in order for Gozer to come to our dimension and do his Destructor thing.
POLICE CAPTAIN: We picked up this guy, now we don't know what to do with him. Bellevue doesn't want him, and I'm afraid to put him in the lock-up. And I know you guys are into this stuff, so I figured we'd check with you.
At this point, the Ghostbusters have become the authority figures. The police have no idea what to do with a possessed Louis, so they turn to our heroes as the authorities on all things weird.
JANINE: Oh no, hold on! I've seen TV, I know you can't come in here without a writ or warrant or something!
PECK: Cease and desist all commerce order, seizure of premises and chattels, ban on use of public utilities for unauthorized waste handlers, and a federal entry and inspection order.
Here's where the government hammer drops. Venkman's antagonism causes Peck to show back up with the law on his side. What do you think the movie is saying about government regulation as a whole?
EGON: I'm warning you, turning off these machines would be extremely hazardous.
PECK: I'll tell you what's hazardous. You're facing federal prosecution for at least half a dozen environmental violations. Now either you shut these beams off or we shut them off for you.
The ironic thing here is that by trying to impose order Peck is actually about to cause a whole lot of chaos. He's letting his personal grudge against Venkman undermine the whole purpose of the organization he represents. Causing a giant explosion and filling Manhattan full of ghosts is probably not in the EPA's mission statement.
PECK: I am Walter Peck, sir, and I'm prepared to make a full report. These men are consummate snowball artists! They use sensitive nerve gases to induce hallucinations. People think they're seeing ghosts! And they call these bozos, who conveniently show up to deal with the problem with a fake electronic light show!
RAY: Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by dickless here.
PECK: They caused an explosion!
MAYOR: Is this true?
PETER: Yes, it's true. This man has no dick.
Despite the trouble his rebelliousness has caused, Venkman still hasn't learned his lesson. He takes the audience with the Mayor as another chance to antagonize Peck. Luckily, the Mayor doesn't seem to like Peck anymore than anybody else, and as the ultimate authority in the movie charges the Ghostbusters with the task of saving the city.
RAY: Gozer the Gozerian. Good evening. As a duly designated representative of the state, county and city of New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension.
PETER: That ought to do it. Thanks very much, Ray.
Ray attempts to try his new Mayor-give authority out on Gozer, but it doesn't work out too well. What's funny here is the idea that any kind of Earthly power structure would matter at all to a chaos loving god from another dimension—well, to any god really. Somehow, Ray doesn't seem to get that.
PETER: I have to go now, Jennifer, but I'd like to work with you some more. Perhaps you could come back this evening, say at—
JENNIFER: Eight o'clock?
PETER: I was just about to say eight o'clock! You are a legitimate phenomenon!
When we first meet Venkman, he's way more about sex than love. In his first scene, we see him convincing a pretty young co-ed that she has ESP just to get her in bed. Way to be creepy Dr. Venkman.
LOUIS: Listen, that reminds me, you shouldn't leave your TV on so loud when you go out. The creep down the hall phoned the manager.
DANA: That's strange. I didn't realize I'd left it on.
LOUIS: Well, yeah, you know what I did? I climbed on the ledge and tried to disconnect the cable, but I couldn't get in, so you know what I did? I turned my TV up real loud too so everyone would think all our TVs had something wrong with them.
Venkman's only competition for Dana is Louis, her nerdy accountant neighbor, though really Louis is no competition at all. It's clear that Louis is head over heels for Dana, however, especially since he climbed out on the ledge of the building to help her not get in trouble with the super.
JANINE: You're very handy. I can tell. I bet you like to read a lot, too.
EGON: Print is dead.
JANINE: Oh, that's very fascinating to me. I read a lot myself. Some people think I'm too intellectual, but I think it's a fabulous way to spend your spare time. I also play racquetball. Do you have any hobbies?
EGON: I collect spores, molds and fungus.
It's really common in romantic comedies for there to be a main romantic couple and then a secondary one that's mostly played for laughs. In Ghostbusters, that couple is Janine and Egon. They buck convention, because the woman is the sexually aggressive one and sex seems like the furthest thing from the hyper-intellectual Egon's mind.
PETER: I'm gonna go for broke. I am madly in love with you.
DANA: I don't believe this. Will you please leave?
PETER: And then she threw me out of her life. She thought I was a creep, she thought I was a geek and she probably wasn't the first...
Venkman is up to his old tricks again when he hits on Dana while inspecting her apartment. Just like with the sexy young co-ed we saw him with at the top of the movie, he's using his supposed paranormal expertise to try and get a date. Dana is a lot more with it than that co-ed, though, so he's going to have to come up with a new approach.
PETER: I'll prove myself to you! [...] And then you'll say, "Pete Venkman's a guy who can get things done!"
The script pulls a popular narrative trick here by tying the main plot in with a love story. Peter is going to win Dana's love by taking care of her Zuul problem. It's really not a lot different than all those stories about knights killing whatever monster to either rescue the fair lady or to win her heart.
PETER: I'm working on that. If we could get together Thursday night, I'm thinking nine-ish, you know, we could exchange information.
DANA: I can't see you Thursday, I'm busy!
PETER: Miss Barrett, you seem to think there is something wrong up here in your mind that says: he enjoys taking his evenings off and spending them with his clients. No. I'm making a special exception in your case. Because... I respect you. It's corny but I respect you as artist. And as a dresser, too! This is a magnificent coordination you have going here today.
DANA: All right. I'll see you Thursday.
On Peter's second pass at Dana, she finally gives in to his shtick. At this point, the Ghostbusters have become successful, which probably makes her feel more comfortable with Venkman's general weirdness. Also, he's actually come up with some research on her Zuul problem, so maybe he seems more legit. Still, we can't help but wonder if on some level we're supposed to think that she's in some way dazzled with his newfound stardom.
DANA: Take me now, subcreature.
PETER: [...] I make it a rule never to get involved with possessed people. Actually, it's more of a guideline than a rule.
DANA: I want you inside me.
PETER: [...] No, I can't, sounds like you've already got at least two people in there already.
Venkman's hot date with Dana turns hotter than he expected when he finds her possessed by Zuul. Though he has to wrestle with the decision (and Dana) a bit, he eventually says nah to having sex with her. Could this mean that he's actually starting to develop sincere feelings for the real Dana? Or is it just that having sex with a possessed person is too freaky even for Peter.
LOUIS: I am the Keymaster!
DANA: I am the Gatekeeper.
At last Zuul/Dana and Vinz/Louis meet, and quickly get involved in a pretty fierce kiss, which leads to everything else. It's great how the movie defies our expectations here. We were expecting Venkman and Dana together, but instead Dana and Louis do first. Yeah, they're possessed by demon dog demi-gods at the time, but still. What makes this hook-up extra funny is that neither Dana nor Louis remembers it at the end of the movie.
PETER: Hello, New York! Well, hi, everyone! Dr. Ray Stantz! Would you please? The heart of the Ghostbusters! Thank you. They love you. They love you here!
The way we figure it, there are two kinds of love here. There's the love of the adoring crowd, which Venkman adores himself. Also, we see brotherly love between Peter and Ray, as Venkman somewhat uncharacteristically gives his fellow Ghostbuster some props.
WINSTON: I love this town!
Winston's screams this out after the defeat of Gozer/the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Here, we see a whole other kind of love: love of city. Not so uncommon after a major disaster, huh?
The crowd cheers for the Ghostbusters. PETER gives DANA a long kiss on the lips. [...] EGON leaves building. JANINE runs into his arms.
They kiss. He pats her cheeks.
The movie wraps up our love stories without any dialogue. Peter and Dana kiss, wrapping up our A plot love story, and Janine plants one on Egon, wrapping up our comic B plot love story. Sure, this is an 80's comedy about guys that bust ghosts, but it works in the same way as the comedies of Shakespeare… where everybody gets married at the end.