A Ghost Story Will Leave You Shaken
Review by Aaron Haughton
David Lowery's A Ghost Story is a poetic meditation on life, death, love, and loss. It's 2001: A Space Odyssey for human existence, and it's the greatest, most genuinely moving film I've seen so far this year. It actually moved me to point of tears on three separate occasions, and I hardly ever elicit a response like that from a film, especially in a theater full of people. Part of the magic stems from Lowery's ability to take something comedic and cliche (the classic sheeted ghost image with two slitted eyeholes) and turn it into something lofty, beautiful and full of deep meaning.
I should say that this is in no way a horror film; although, Lowery does pepper traditional horror tropes, such as bumps in the night, the feeling of being watched, and the supernatural flickering of lights and movement of objects, throughout his film, which he bends in interestingly elevated and atypical ways. The result is an existential experience akin to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 or Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life, but much shorter, concise and less embedded in ambiguity.
The film centers on Casey Affleck, a struggling musician known only a C, and Rooney Mara, Affleck's wife, known only as M. After Affleck is killed in a car accident near their home, he rises in the hospital as a sheeted ghost, wandering back to the house to console Mara. Being unable to really communicate with the living, the ghost spans time, witnessing days and weeks in a matter of seconds, and even transcending it altogether. Not being bound to an individual but to the house itself, the sheeted Affleck watches the love of his life move out of their home, but not before folding a little note in a crack in the wall and sealing it shut with paint. The ghost then watches as the house takes on new occupants and is eventually demolished, all the while trying to get to the note Mara left behind.
The narrative is very sparse, but Lowery is able to elevate and captivate through his masterful execution, visual poetics, and his choice to let the important moments play out. The lynchpin for the film, in my opinion, comes early; it's a long take (featured briefly in the trailer) of Affleck and Mara lying in bed together. The camera sticks on them for several minutes, as they groggily embrace and share some sleepy kisses and affection -- it's a moment that solidifies their relationship and feeling toward one another; it's an honest, real moment, and it can be deeply felt by the viewer.
Another example of this is Mara eating an entire pie she receives shortly after Affleck's passing, which serves as a very potent symbol of grief and loss. Each stab of the fork in the pie tin gets more aggressive and destructive as the shot lingers on Mara as she shovels forkful after forkful into her mouth at increasing intervals, barely allotting time to chew, while the ghost watches in the background.
Lowery builds poetic symbolism through things that are meant to be shared, such as the pie or a bed, which makes Affleck's loss and Mara's grief feel all the more real. All of this feeling is reinforced by the film's wonderful score, composed by Daniel Hart, which also includes a very emotional track by Dark Rooms.
The film is portrayed entirely in 4:3 aspect ratio, which I couldn't figure out the relevance of, but wasn't bugged by either, and uses nearly no dialogue. Although, about halfway through the film, there is a heavy-handed, nihilistic, Linklater-esque (think Slacker or Waking Life) monologue (delivered by Will Oldham) concerning the futility of humanity's efforts to preserve and ensure a legacy on earth, which will undoubtedly end and fall victim to an ever expanding and collapsing universe. Amid all these very grave, heady themes, Lowery also allows room for laughter through a few instances of the sheeted ghost communicating with another sheeted ghost in a nearby house.
The film's power to make you feel a wide range of emotions is part of it's charm and allure, and it definitely has the ability to cast an enchanting spell on its viewers. If you can allow yourself to give in and go along for the ride, I think that you'll be moved in ways you didn't expect to be. I was a little shaken after the film concluded, and, like a ghost, it stuck to and haunted me on my long drive home from the theater. I would highly recommend everyone see this film. I keep comparing it to 2001, but it seriously is a Terran version of Kubrick's sci-fi epic, and, like the Kubrick film, it will challenge you, stimulate you, and satisfy you in ways that very few films can.
Rating: 5 sheeted ghosts out of 5.
What do you thing? Were you profoundly moved by this film? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!