OldKingClancy posted a MOVIE REVIEW item: 8 days ago

A Ghost Story


Directed by: David Lowery
Written by: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
Genre: Drama
Official Site:
Plot: "Whatever hour you woke, there was a door shutting."


Out of the many films I’ve seen there’s surprisingly only a couple that I would class as feeling ‘poetic’, there are films that use poetic aspects – for example The Wild Bunch uses its violence in a very raw but elegant manner – but for a film to actually feel like a poem there’s very few that pull it off. To my mind, The Proposition, Slow West and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are the only ones that fit the criteria, only now I’m thinking of adding A Ghost Story to that list, I had no idea what to expect when I started this but the way it tackles it’s themes of love and loss makes it easily one of the most unique viewing experiences of the year.

The film opens with a married couple, a struggling musician known only as ‘C’ and his wife known only as ‘M’, living together in a small house out in a small suburb of Dallas when, almost immediately into the movie, C dies in a car crash only to wake in the hospital as a ghost with a white sheet and two cut-out holes for eyes. Traversing the hospital C is met by a gate in a white light but he turns it down and returns home.

At home C watches M struggle to cope with the grief over losing her husband with no way to comfort or console her, however as time goes by for M and the days turns into weeks and months, C has the same time go by in seconds so while M is able to come to terms and move on, C is stuck trying to understand his own death, his wife’s acceptance and his own inability to move on due to a final note left by M that he cannot reach.

I’ve only really touched upon the first act of the film which actually does take up a good majority of the film, things don’t really start kicking in until after M leaves at which point the actual meat of the story starts coming into play. It’s very difficult to explain and really even seeing the film you still might not fully understand but the examination of love and longing take an unusual but wholly unique shape when you realise that we’re seeing this film through the eyes of a ghost, from the perspective of the afterlife. Taken at face value the concept of moving on from death is nothing new to film but to move on from your own death, that’s something that to my knowledge has never been touched upon before and the film’s use of time allows them to tackle the subject of moving on in a manner both haunting and oddly affirming as well.

Because of the nature of the film there’s actually very little in the way of character development, at least not in the traditional sense, there’s a very experimental feel to the whole thing that only works because of how the film plays itself out. While we have our main leads in C and M we get a handful of other characters that have their part to play, a single Hispanic mother and her two young children, a cynical partygoer who philosophises about the futility of man trying to make his mark on a world that will eventually just burn out and die and even a family on the frontier at one point. To explain how they factor into the film would ruin the experience of figuring it out for yourself but to keep it brief, it’s not important who these people are but rather how to tie into C’s story.

Rooney Mara’s M at first seems like she’s to be our lead character with her being our connection to the living world and the more recognisable form of grieving, and while that might not be the case Mara still manages to make an impression. There’s something very genuine about the way Mara plays this characters, it’s hard to describe but the best way I can think of is ‘openly subtle’, raw emotions would feel out of place in this film so for the most part Mara keeps her sorrow on the inside but it flashes through in moments, be it after a date and the guilt of moving on hits her suddenly or – as is the case in the film’s most talked about moment – when she sits and eats an entire chocolate pie in one sitting because the stress gets too much and she needs a release. Mara’s ability to never overpower the film and yet still keep us grasped to her is absolutely necessary to ease us out of the easy initial first half into the more elaborate and out-there second half.

The final character of the film is C played by Casey Affleck who is under a sheet for 90% of his screentime, I don’t know exactly how much of it is actually him – it’s been said that they used one of the crew members for some of the close-up shots – but let’s say it’s a majority. With the sheet hiding his entire body and not one word spoken as a ghost, Affleck has to rely on body language to convey C’s thoughts and emotions to being dead without going disrupting the film’s subtle tones. As hard as that sounds on paper in practise it comes off actually quite well, true there’s a lot that has to be interpreted but you have to imagine this is a very depressing existence, watching your one love move on without you as months and years and decades pass by you in mere seconds. C’s inability to move on is the crux of this story, it’s his anger, fear, desperation and depression that drive this story forward and does so without a single frame of emotion on his face.

This whole film and concept could’ve come crashing down had the right mind not been at the forefront, thankfully David Lowery is such a mind, and good thing too because this should not have worked at all, between the white sheet ghost, the five minute pie scene and the almost complete lack of dialogue – aside from the party philosophy monologue this could’ve almost been a silent film – this is not a film that looks good in any manner. But the whole is greater than the sum of its part s and under Lowery’s direction it all comes together quite brilliantly.

Because of the nature of the film and it’s very low-key feel there’s an immensely personal style to how the characters behave, even down to the film ratio which puts the screen into a 70s home video aspect. At times you feel like you’ve walked in on a private moment and are unsure on how to react, it’s why the pie-scene stands out, it’s not just that M is eating an entire pie in one sitting it’s that we’re watching her do so and it becomes uncomfortable but that’s the nature of grief, it’s watching one person implode and knowing you can’t stop it but wishing you could. To an extent the same thing can be said about C’s whole journey through the afterlife, it’s an immensely personal journey for him and he struggles with it but we’re with him every step of the way whether we want to be or not and trust me, seeing a ghost struggle with depression is something I never thought I’d see but they made it work.

On a side note, the white sheet might seem laughable at first but it serves to give the audience a safe and familiar sight to remind them that despite featuring ghosts, this is not a horror movie, this is about the disconnect between life and death and the wish to separate the two completely.

The poetry of the film comes into play once C starts to suffer with time and is unable to move on without M’s final note, like anyone can understand, holding onto that final photo or that final letter or final voicemail if you want to be modern about it of a loved one is a deeply personal wound that can only heal if you allow it, without closure C is left to the ages. It’s why the cynical monologue is so important, we have a guy debating the use of making a mark on a world that will eventually die out but the film’s own central message debates that. It’s not about making your mark on the world, it’s about making your mark on a singular person, M might have moved on eventually but she made her mark so ingrained on C that he was willing to ignore what was beyond life in order to stay with her and wouldn’t move on until he had her final words to comfort him.

The beauty of the film is that is presents this choice as both terrifying and beautiful, on the one hand the theme of love transcending the borders of life and death is truly incredible to behold, but on the other, that love is presented in only one direction and the emotional pain wrought on C as a result has to leave you wondering if it was worth it all. Much like life there is not right answer.

I feel I could go on further but A Ghost Story is best viewed on your own terms, it’s such a fascinating and wonderful examination into the afterlife that I don’t think I could do it justice here. The way Lowery has crafted this weird, unique, haunting and wonderful tale of loss and love with the subtlety and patience that he did it with is something that has to be seen just to experience it yourself, it’s emotional without being overdramatic, it’s powerful without overpowering you and it’s real without falling victim to realism.

None of that makes any sense so just trust me when I tell you to see this film.



Other reviews of this film: TreyTheMovieMan (9/10) , MonsterZeroNJ (7/10) > Display all

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