A Ghost Story

Fortean Times - - Reviews/Films - Daniel King

Dir David Low­ery, US 2017 On UK re­lease from 11 Au­gust The first thing to say about A Ghost

Story is that it isn’t a ghost story, at least not in the M R James sense. Ad­mit­tedly, Casey Af­fleck’s ghost ap­pears as the clas­sic whitesheeted phan­tom and, true, there is a brief se­quence of poltergeist­style crock­ery throw­ing, but th­ese are not what di­rec­tor David Low­ery is re­ally in­ter­ested in. Rather, he uses the ghost as a ve­hi­cle to ex­plore themes of loss, grief, lone­li­ness and love. Un­for­tu­nately, he does this in a pon­der­ous, vague and frankly pre­ten­tious man­ner, which ren­ders the film largely in­ef­fec­tive.

Af­fleck’s char­ac­ter is ‘C’ (it’s typ­i­cal of the film that the char­ac­ters have ini­tials in­stead of proper names; we should at least be grate­ful that they used up­per case) and he is hap­pily mar­ried to ‘M’ (Rooney Mara). When C is killed in a car ac­ci­dent M is nat­u­rally in­con­solable, but what she can’t see and doesn’t know is that C has fol­lowed her home from the hos­pi­tal, now clad in the white sheet that cov­ered him in the morgue.

C silently ob­serves his wife as she strug­gles to cope with her grief, un­able to com­mu­ni­cate with or even touch her. Even­tu­ally, she sells up and moves out, and we re­alise that C is tied to the place where he lived. The film then sees C haunt­ing, in both senses, his for­mer home as the end­less years crawl by and new oc­cu­pants come and go.

Ter­rence Mal­ick has a lot to do with the cur­rent Hol­ly­wood vogue for solemn, por­ten­tous films which usu­ally fall short of the pro­fun­dity for which they are striv­ing; the prob­lem is that long and slow is mis­taken for im­por­tant and mean­ing­ful (even in Mal­ick’s own work). A Ghost Story avoids the first prob­lem by be­ing mer­ci­fully brief (around 90 min­utes) but it is of­ten painfully slow. One se­quence in par­tic­u­lar has been re­ceiv­ing plenty of at­ten­tion: Rooney Mara sit­ting on her kitchen floor com­fort-eat­ing an en­tire chocolate pie that a sym­pa­thetic friend has made for her. For bet­ter or worse, it en­cap­su­lates the en­tire film: de­lib­er­ately pro­tracted, beau­ti­fully com­posed, but ut­terly de­void of mean­ing or pur­pose.

There are some good things about the film. Af­fleck and Mara are fine ac­tors and de­spite be­ing given pre­cious lit­tle to work with they adroitly con­vey the love and grief that in­evitably go hand in hand in hu­man re­la­tion­ships. Low­ery’s choice of the 1.33:1 as­pect ra­tio (not the usual widescreen one we’re used to th­ese days) is an un­usual and in­ter­est­ing one, which he says he made to heighten the sense of con­tain­ment, but the film gives the im­pres­sion of play­ing with deep themes with­out ever re­ally en­gag­ing with them prop­erly.

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