Love, death, loss, loneliness and an overall expansive view at our existence through time within the confines of a singular location, A GHOST STORY is a quietly interesting and devastatingly sad observation of both life and the afterlife.
Simply credited as C and M, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play two people in love living in a small home. C (Affleck) dies very early on. He awakens at the hospital with the morgue sheet over his head and two eye holes suddenly present. His ghost ventures back to their home and observes his grieving wife.
I’m not sure I can properly describe A GHOST STORY. It’s a film that provides an unusual experience to watch and demands a lot of patience. As it began, I slowly became irritated with the long deliberate shots of the most mundane actions. Do I really need to see Rooney Mara eat an entire pie? Or I got sidetracked by questions. Is that really Casey Affleck under the sheet? While I initially hated the lack of movement, I couldn’t look away. The experience reminded me of the first time I watched Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. A film I eventually loved partly due to its lasting impression.
My slow burn to irritation gradually turned back to admiration. I found myself entranced by the simplicity of the singular take on afterlife voyeurism and the surprisingly, dare I say, science fiction approach to the concept of time. When I got home from my screening, I was still unsure of my thoughts about the film. What had I just watched? I had to tell my wife about every exact thing that transpired on screen. When I finished retelling each detail of the film, it was obvious that A GHOST STORY had made an impression on me.
I will spare you the detailed explanation I gave my wife with the understanding that this film is probably best suited for a select audience and needs to be experienced for one’s self. Firstly, ignoring the traditional idea of the title, don’t force a pre-conceived notion that A GHOST STORY has anything to do with scares. The film is a story about a tortured and lost spirit, confined to one location and searching for a piece of his love. Through extended takes with barely a sound or even movement, writer and director David Lowery (AIN’T THEM BODY SAINTS) is deliberate with his choices. Whether you like it or not, Lowery’s slow, quiet approach has purpose.
Time is the biggest theme as large chunks of time are missing and small moments are focused on longer than any 90-minute movie has any business doing. The visual of two eyeholes in a sheet is probably the most basic and child-like interpretation to the definition of a “ghost.” It’s a clever approach that maintains a simplicity within a grander scale. The standing sheet oddly begins to express emotion. The two eyeholes are significant in that sight is the only sense that is necessary. Loneliness overcomes the screen, which is suitably shot in a rounded edged square 4:3 aspect ratio.
One’s interpretation of the film may differ from another’s. Lowery doesn’t necessarily have an answer either and I think that thought is what makes A GHOST STORY so desperately sad. I confess that I’m thankfully at a disadvantage into fully immersing myself into the film’s philosophical questions because my faith in Christ gives me a peace to my existence. This blessed assurance contradicts any pressing challenges to what the filmmaker might be trying to present.
However, there is a beauty to this original expression of sadness that I want others to see, if nothing else than to open up a conversation as to why you loved or hated the film’s vision. My fondness for A GHOST STORY grew during my viewing and has continued to grow since leaving the theater. I’m sure “pretentious” will be a commonly used criticism, but for some, A GHOST STORY has the potential for being one of the most rewarding films of the year.