A GHOST STORY
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.