A Ghost Story
A GHOST STORY, drama, rated R, Violet Crown, 2.5 chiles
M (Rooney Mara) and C (Casey Affleck) — we never learn their full names — live in a one-story house with a gravel driveway in a place that’s wet and verdant. They spend time together on their laptops — she looks at listings for properties on Craigslist; he wears headphones and tinkers with music, his brow furrowed. He is brawny and bearded; she is slender and elfin. They snuggle, they argue, and then they make up and snuggle some more.
Then C dies. M goes to the morgue, where his body lies under a sheet. She takes a look, has a quiet moment, and leaves. After a minute or two, C sits up. Still under the sheet, he walks out of the morgue. He will remain ensheeted for the rest of the movie, in ghostly form.
C returns to the house and watches silently as M grieves, carries on, and eventually moves out. Time speeds up and other occupants of the house come and go. We learn the fate of the site after the house is gone, and then we loop back to see the land before it was built. During one interval, a lively party takes place in the house, with a philosophizing reveler (played by Will Oldham, also known as indie-Americana music darling Bonnie “Prince” Billy) ruminating on the nature of memory, music, and mortality. In his dialogue, the movie’s themes — in case we didn’t pick up on them already — are spelled out pretty directly. “Who will remember us after we’re gone?” he asks.
Doubtless, M remembers C; he definitely remembers her. His pining for their life together seems to be what binds him to the place where they lived. The space is rendered effectively empty by her absence, filled only with shadows and memories. Whatever else you take from A Ghost Story, it will make you want to get out more often.
Writer-director David Lowery tells this story with little in the way of a soundtrack. One exception is the lilting song C plays for M on his laptop, which reappears later and is attributed in the credits to a band called Dark Rooms. With a start-stop beat, string section, and falsetto vocals, it’s maudlin, hyper-dramatic, and annoyingly catchy.
Lowery seems to be counting on the brief scenes with Affleck to furnish a connection with the sheeted protagonist and what we imagine to be his post-life emotions, but the utility of this device is limited, and much of the movie feels like a slog toward resolution. How much can you really connect with a character who could be played by a volleyball on a pole beneath a sheet?
A haunting love: Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck