Director: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
Academy Award winner Casey Affleck spends 90% of the movie silent and covered with a bed sheet, slowly and solemnly stalking the house he once owned with his partner M (Mara). Shot in a manner reminiscent of Malick and, to an extent, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, A Ghost Story is viewed from the perspective of the sheet-clad ghosty and deals with the ideas of loss, grief, denial and the passing/transience of time.
At first almost ludicrous sounding, the movie shouldn’t work.
But it really does.
C (Affleck) and M are young and in love, housed up in a fairly rundown property in the Texas sticks. They discuss their fears together, they lay together and they argue together - specifically, M wants to move away from the house, yet C feels a spiritual need to remain. She travels to work daily and he stays at home, working on self-created music. It’s very colourless, until one day C is killed in a car accident outside of the house, and it’s on the medical slab that he rises in his new skin – the sheet.
With nothing left for her, M slips into the grieving process. Discarded memories in the bin give a reason for sad reflection, C’s music takes on new meaning for her and a pie becomes a movie star. But, eventually she moves on with her life as time passes, and every moment of the process is observed by C, looming in the house watching over her. Every moment including another man making a move on M. Bad idea. Before M eventually moves out, she leaves a small, unknown note hidden within the walls and as new tenants come and go, C is left with his yearning sense of grief, loneliness and need for release.
A Ghost Story is a beautifully shot movie, full of originality and with a haunting pathos lingering over it. A simple statement that is apt as the movie deals in just that – simplicity. It’s grounded, the lead character wears a near-nondescript sheet and the emphasis is placed more on what isn’t being said as opposed to what is. It isn’t a dialogue-heavy movie at the best of times, only a long monologue, regarding our doomed attempts to leave behind a legacy (or traces) after death, punctuates the haunting silence. It’s patient, so very patient, and a four-minute shot of Rooney Mara eating a pie will either have you tying the noose or ensnare you emotionally (I fell in between, the tedium highlighting the pain that time brings and the idea that nothing will be the same as it was, yet I hate watching/hearing people eat, so…). Don’t expect a horror-ghost story, you will be disappointed – though the movie does cleverly weave in a few horror tropes. A Ghost Story’s aesthetic and metaphysical vision is similar to 2017’s Personal Shopper, but it’s delivered far more successfully here.
Full of extensive, unhurried shots with minimal attempt at flashy angles – the majority of the movie is shot static – there’s an ethereal quality to the movie (shot in 1:33:1 aspect ratio only adds to the notion that we’re on the outside looking in). It’s brooding, detailed and entwining arrangement is captured wonderfully because of this, and the rising yet cautious string-led score really helps with the overall atmosphere. The passage of time is captured via the stars and shifting seasons, and eventually, the home is replaced by a giant, contemporary office block, though C remains in the spot where he died – rooted in denial and seeking…something. It’s this moment where the true transient nature of time in C’s otherworldly state is revealed as he floats between past, present and future in an indefinite time span.
Covered by the sheet, Affleck is forced to use small gestures to portray his emotions or actions. The drape of the sheet is our primary way of perceiving, a lowering of the head or shoulder slump silently and powerfully emphasizing what ghost C is going through. A sharp head turn or a slow head turn is another tool. There’s a sad resignation as he watches another man enter his home, replaced by supernatural anger and it was actually quite moving to witness. Once the initial ridiculousness of the sheet had passed, it became creepy, unearthly and surprisingly effective. Feeling empathy for a bedsheet? Who’d have thought?
The movie is able to wring emotion out of seemingly nothing. At certain points, another sheet-clad ghosty appears in the empty residence opposite and via subtitles, the two wordlessly exchange minor small talk. There is an overwhelming sadness that washes over these moments, as the answers the ghosts seek have fundamentally left forever and their purgatory will remain. It’s a great idea, however, implying the ghosts have feelings also.
A Ghost Story implores you to WATCH and impose your own thoughts and feelings to what is happening and in doing so provides more questions than it does answers. Will we be remembered? Will our efforts ultimately mean nothing? Is there an afterlife? In a world crying out for original movies (and then not watching them), A Ghost Story is a hauntingly beautiful example of film-making at its near best.
…and what did that damn note say!?
September 19th 2017