Some­body’s watch­ing me: One heart that can’t let go

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Michael O'Sul­li­van Bret Curry, A24

By the stan­dards of the tra­di­tional ghost story, “A Ghost Story” isn’t much of one. By the stan­dards of the moody art­house med­i­ta­tion on love, loss, mem­ory, for­get­ting, at­tach­ment, let­ting go and the na­ture of eter­nity, it’s pretty darn great.

Okay, per­haps not great. But bold and strange, in that in­die way. Po­etic with­out be­ing pre­ten­tious, and at times dead­pan funny, this bal­lad of a lonely poltergeist is cer­tainly not for ev­ery­one, but it is for some. Have I men­tioned that it’s shot in a squar­ish as­pect ra­tio, with rounded corners, and bathed in the soft glow of nos­tal­gia, like a Hip­sta­matic photo? Don’t let that put you off.

Casey Af­fleck, play­ing a mu­sic com­poser iden­ti­fied only as C in press ma­te­ri­als, is sup­posed to be dead for much of the film, hid­ing un­der what amounts to a white sheet — or some­thing closer to a ban­quet table­cloth in size, given the way it trails him like a wed­ding gown — with two eye holes. Af­ter a bit of Ter­rence Mal­ick­ian pro­logue, in which we’re shown a col­lage of seem­ingly ran­dom, frag­men­tary snip­pets from C’s life with his sig­nif­i­cant other, M (Rooney Mara), he dies, rather sud­denly, in a car ac­ci­dent that — al­though it oc­curs en­tirely off camera — man­ages to be mildly shock­ing and en­tirely ex­pected.

From that mo­ment on, in this fa­ble writ­ten and di­rected by David Low­ery of “Pete’s Dragon” and “Ain’t Them Bod­ies Saints,” C haunts M with the per­sis­tence of a dog who is wait­ing for his ab­sent mistress. Or, rather, he haunts the old house that they lived in to­gether. Stand­ing around rather mo­rosely — if a guy in a sheet can be said to be mo­rose, and not, more ac­cu­rately, mo­tion­less — C’s ghost watches M de­vour an en­tire pie that has been left for her, as con­do­lence food, by their real es­tate agent (Liz Car­de­nas Franke), and then he watches her vomit it all up. He watches her move on, bring­ing an­other man (Barlow Ja­cobs) home, and then he watches her move out.

He watches and watches and watches, as other, newer res­i­dents of the house come and go, even en­gag­ing in a lit­tle harm­less poltergeist ac­tiv­ity to spice things up. Part of the time is spent si­lently com­muning with the fe­male ghost next door, whom C spots through the win­dow. They stare at each other — soul to soul — speak­ing, in a way, through wry sub­ti­tles. (Ac­cord­ing to the cred­its, she’s played by the pop singer Ke­sha Se­bert. Be­cause she is al­ways un­der a sheet, you must take that on faith.)

There is very lit­tle spo­ken di­a­logue. Most of the words in the film oc­cur dur­ing a house party, mutely wit­nessed by C’s spirit, as a guest ex­pounds, with the philo­soph­i­cal cer­ti­tude of the man who is about to have one beer too many, on the im­per­ma­nence of art.

Is that the point of the film? It’s never quite clear. More im­por­tant: Can a ghost “die” and come back to haunt it­self ? Low­ery pushes the tropes of the haunted house film past the break­ing point, cre­at­ing some­thing that is en­tirely original — and oddly, if not pro­foundly un­set­tling. Maybe that guy at the party is right. Maybe art doesn’t last for­ever. But for a lit­tle while — long af­ter the clos­ing cred­its any­way — “A Ghost Story” man­ages to be stick with you.

A scene from “Ghost Story,” star­ring Rooney Mara.

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