I’ll warn you up front, ladies and gentlemen: A Ghost Story is a slow moving yet ambitious piece of filmmaking. It takes aims at what we leave behind after death, and the idea that one could get the answers in death that he couldn’t find in life.
David Lowery recruits his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints team of Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara to portray C and M, a couple that go through a traumatic process when one of them dies unexpectedly. Without a ton of dialogue or moving parts, Lowery directs from his own script a tale about the many ways people grieve. Affleck’s C returns to his house as a ghost, complete with the white sheet and eye holes, to look after his wife and the home that he left. There are certain things that C needs to know before he can pass on, and they don’t have to do with M alone.
The great thing about ghost stories is the countless ways it allows a filmmaker to be inventive with. Once he returns as a ghost, C’s story line doesn’t have to deal in a pure linear form. He can visit his wife in the present, or go back to one of their existential fights, or battles over whether to move or stay in a home that carries special meaning to C.
Affleck’s ghost can also go back to when the house was originally built, as Lowery doesn’t hold back when it comes to reaching deep into the abyss that is morality. The more the film unfolds, the more time is spent with this couple’s past, and the highs/lows they experienced. It also allows us to see why C doesn’t want to leave just yet after he dies. He wasn’t the most attentive husband during his life, and he gets to know M better when he is gone.
Look, for me, this movie hit close to home, because I just lost a family member-and I recently moved out of a house my wife and I had owned for eight years. Seeing the ghost drift around his home in different decades and centuries looking for clues and answers was a feeling I could connect to. In order for this movie to land correctly, there’s a piece of your past that is going to need to hook to its central them: loss, legacy, and the unbreakable bond that memories can create.
For the ones who have no idea what’s going on: halfway through the film, there’s a long exposition about legacy that should catch you right up.
I will admit that it’s easier to admire the ambition of A Ghost Story than get a firm grasp on its appeal immediately after you see it. This is the kind of movie that needs to marinate in your head for awhile. Since it doesn’t have a neat little bow attached to its ending, the lingering feeling may be detachment.
Here’s what I took away from it: David Lowery has a passionate need to explore what happens after death, and how much of what we left behind actually sticks around. I like A Ghost Story’s decision to let the audience climb into the story and relate to it-and that it doesn’t dip its feet in melodrama to get its message across. Without being overbearing with his follow-through, Lowery shows his passion. That’s impressive.
Affleck doesn’t get much screen time to put across what C is made of, but he makes a dent with his scenes. The actor’s climb into the elite has been an impressive sight, and Mara doesn’t lean on sheer crying and emotion to transcribe grief. They are both very good in difficult roles.
Ghost stories can be pretentious if not handled correctly. Thankfully, A Ghost Story is subtle.