A GHOST STORY

Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - JAMES JEN­NINGS

Boo, or boo-yoot-iful?

DI­REC­TOR David Low­ery

CAST Casey Af­fleck, Rooney Mara, Will Old­ham

PLOT Af­ter mu­si­cian C (Af­fleck) dies in a car crash, his ghost re­turns to haunt the home he shared with now griev­ing wife, M (Mara).

A WARN­ING: THE first half of A Ghost Story is so lethar­gi­cally paced that you’ll be­gin to won­der pre­cisely where the ‘mo­tion’ in ‘mo­tion pic­ture’ went. To wit: there’s a static scene where Rooney Mara’s M does noth­ing but eat a pie for what feels like 45 min­utes straight, and an­other where the cam­era fixes on the body of the de­ceased C (Casey Af­fleck) in a hos­pi­tal for an in­ter­minably long pe­riod of time. At times it feels like an en­durance test, as if writer-di­rec­tor David Low­ery (Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bod­ies Saints) is posit­ing to the au­di­ence “This is an Art Film pre­sented in un­ortho­dox 1:33:1 fram­ing — now, how far can we push your tol­er­ance lev­els in the name of cap­i­tal-a Art?”

The fact that there’s lit­tle in the way of story, to be­gin with at least, doesn’t help. There’s in­ti­mate, softly spo­ken do­mes­tic scenes be­tween hus­band C and wife M as the pair dis­cuss mov­ing from their ram­shackle sub­ur­ban home, sleepy canoodling in bed and noodling with au­dio equip­ment as C makes mu­sic seem­ingly only in­tended for he and M to hear.

It’s not giv­ing any­thing away to re­veal that the cou­ple’s do­mes­tic bliss comes to a tragic end when C is killed in a car ac­ci­dent, af­ter which he re­an­i­mates as a ghost — a ghost, it should be said, who is pre­sented in the clas­sic ‘per­son un­der a bed­sheet with the eyes cut out’ guise. C’s ghost moves silently, slowly, de­lib­er­ately, qui­etly ob­serv­ing his sur­round­ings as months and years be­gin to pass as if mere sec­onds. M moves out; new in­hab­i­tants come and go (in­clud­ing Will Old­ham as the ‘Prog­nos­ti­ca­tor’, who de­liv­ers an epic mono­logue about the fu­til­ity of try­ing to es­tab­lish any kind of last­ing le­gacy on Earth).

But here’s the thing: sit through the lan­guid first half and you’ll be richly re­warded with a com­pelling, poetic and poignant lat­ter half that will make ev­ery drawn out sec­ond seem com­pletely worth it. Not only does A Ghost Story start to take (ad­mit­tedly hazy) shape once it hits its mid­point by trans­form­ing into some­thing truly be­guil­ing (C’s ghost also mor­ph­ing from an al­most com­i­cal fig­ure to a for­lorn, deeply emo­tive pres­ence), but by its heart-rend­ing con­clu­sion it pulls off the rather neat trick of com­pletely re­fram­ing the slow be­gin­ning and in­fus­ing it with new lay­ers of mean­ing. To go into de­tail about pre­cisely how the film shifts gear would only rob it of its slow-burn magic as it del­i­cately ex­plores themes of love, loss, grief and the in­evitable for­ward march of time.

Low­ery and co-con­spir­a­tors Af­fleck and

Mara com­pleted the film un­der a veil of se­crecy — the agents of all three were un­aware it was even be­ing made — and their com­mit­ment to this low-key ex­per­i­ment is what brings the film to life. By let­ting go, the trio have brought to light one of the ques­tions most worth ask­ing in life: what ex­actly are we hold­ing onto that is keep­ing us from mov­ing for­ward in our lives? C may be a pas­sive ob­server in his own story; A Ghost Story com­pels you not to fol­low suit.

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