“A Ghost Story” Movie Review


     There is no definitive way to describe writer/director David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” that would effectively communicate what exactly a viewer will experience when they buy a ticket.  By no means is this a horror film, nor is it a thriller of any kind.  There isn't anything scary about what happens, and the characters spend most of the film in various modes of silence, exuding emotion through inaction and brooding.  But what “A Ghost Story” may be is the most original film I’ve seen in years, while also proving to be one of the more divisive in the way it presents its material.  There is no doubt many of the more artful minded cinema types will love the film just as much as those from the mainstream movie going audience will likely hate it.  The experience Lowery has created is one that puts you directly into the shoes of a would be ghost, trapped eternally in the home he once shared with his wife as the decades seem to go by second by second.

     The initial scenes indicate a certain level of turmoil within the marriage of a young couple played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.  Affleck, coming off his recent Best Actor win for last year’s “Manchester by the Sea”, has proven an expert at playing the introverted keep to himself type.  The kind of guy who you know is dealing with some kind of deep rooted emotional regret, but has constructed a reliable facade in order to shield himself from others who might want to pry.  Here he plays a character that prefers to live in a older home located in a remote area of Texas, secluded from most of the real world, while working as a musician.  His wife (neither are actually named in the film), dreams of a life in the big city and is seen early on longing to find a connection with her husband in a way that indicates the couple may be growing apart.  

     If you’ve viewed the film’s trailer, than you know Affleck’s character dies and becomes a ghost visually seen in the film as a human like figure draped in a white sheet with holes cut out for the eyes.  And that’s where the film may prove to be a tedious experience for most.  Once the ghost makes its way back to the home the couple once shared together, he stands over his now widowed wife as she grieves, motionless and obviously expressionless.  Lowery wants us to feel the emptiness experienced by Mara’s character as she proceeds to eat nearly an entire pie left for her by a friend in the wake of her husband’s death.  Coming home alone for the first time would leave someone in certain despair, and we as the audience witness this bite by bite for what seemed like at least 10 minutes of screen time with Mara seated on the floor in the kitchen and the ghost standing silently a few feet away.  There’s no dialogue in this scene, but what you see visually is more impactful than anything that could’ve been said.  It’s the ultimate “What do I do now” scene where a character has suddenly lost everything she has known and isn’t sure where to turn.

     Nothing really happens in these scenes.  Lowery keeps the camera motionless and chose to shoot in a square aspect ratio with rounded edges as if the entire film was a long lost movie diary of the ghost’s journey in the afterlife. The Dark Rooms’ single “I Get Overwhelmed” and Daniel Hart’s score help create an unmistakably grim and tragic tone that contributes to Lowery’s tightly framed compositions which in most cases are devoid of dialogue but remain visually haunting.  Time passes and new occupants move into the house, as we realize the ghost must be unable to follow his past love and is somehow bound to the home he once said he wouldn't leave.  The story continues as the ghost stoically observes the various people who move in and eventually move on.  Subtle cuts within scenes indicate significant changes in time and even a complete loop in time where the home is at one point leveled to make way for a massive high rise condo building to another where the ghost observes the first settlers on the land the home will one day be built.

     Affleck, who spends 90 percent of the film covered in the aforementioned white sheet must rely on subtle movements and mannerisms in order to convey the emotions he is experiencing if that’s even the right word for it.  Loss is certainly the central theme, but the story isn't necessarily told from the perspective of the surviving loved ones.  Instead, Lowery explores the possibility of our being able to see what we lost as our entire legacy unfolds without us.  Hefty stuff indeed, which means every viewer’s perception of “A Ghost Story” will likely differ from person to person based on where they are in their lives and what their individual life experiences have been up to that point.  Affleck’s ghostly being died too young and didn’t get to see things through with his relationship or his enormous potential as a singer and musician, leaving him helpless within another dimension, only to realize life will go on without him.  And though the ending leaves more questions than answers, Lowery finds a way to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion that will at the least merit a good conversation as you're walking out of the theater. GRADE: B+