A Ghost Story
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.