A Ghost Story was a very risky concept to imagine. David Lowery must have had nightmares about pitching his passion project of a man who, upon dying, returns to resemble the ghost emoji or the costume you might have worn for Halloween aged 5, to prospective producers and studios. Using the same actors as the couple featured in his first directorial success Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, what eventually assembled was the story of M (Rooney Mara) and C (Casey Affleck), who live together in a small house somewhere in America. C is then killed in a car accident outside the house, but instead of passing over to the afterlife or whatever you wish to believe happens after death, his attachment to his home and to M is simulated in his rising as a ghost to ‘haunt’ the house that they shared. Branded as both a piece of artistic snobbery and a poignant lesson in existentiality, it’s a dividing piece of cinema. My personal favourite review on IMDB is a toss-up between the viewer who believed ‘this film should be called Flatliners 2 because that’s what I did whilst watching it’, and another who wished to rename it ‘A Cure For Insomnia’. It’s a thinker rather than a suspension of disbelief, and if you’re willing to set aside a couple of hours to really pay attention and consider how it makes you feel, A Ghost Story may prove to be as haunting as it implies.
The most gratifying aspect of A Ghost Story is it’s setting and photography. The long, boundless shots created by cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo show how important the concept of time and it’s inevitability are to Lowery; they fully engulf the audience by creating a sense of immediacy without breaking the fourth wall. C’s ghost becomes a being that exists outside of time; therefore accentuating its passing and cyclical progression. The use of a 4 minute long shot in the first 10 minutes of the couple just lying together does more to convey the intimacy of their relationship than 20 minutes of dialogue could have ever done.
One particularly moving scene, created to manifest Mara’s character’s all-consuming grief, sees her sitting on the floor eating an entire pie in real-time, which here feels like an eternity and asks for a lot of patience and willingness to give into fully transposing yourself in the character’s failing reasoning. She then proceeds to run to her bathroom to be sick; having tried to fill the gap he has left in her life with food, her own body attempts to expel it. Think Bruce Bogtrotter avec tears and without an assembly room full of happy stomping children.
Rooney Mara achieves something very special in her portrayal of hidden devastation, and Affleck’s performance of the ghost is haunting not with it’s installation of fear in his audiences, but of melancholy. There’s something extremely satisfying about the fact that it is in fact Affleck under the sheet for the vast majority of the film, aside from a few takes which had been re-shot, much to his reported disdain. You have to give an actor credit when he evokes a truly affecting response with only his posture. DO NOT watch this movie if you want engaging dialogue (aside from a provocative rant about time from a future party invitee towards the end of the film), car chases or a good laugh, but it’s a subjective masterpiece with a beautiful soundtrack that doesn’t ask to be liked or revered, only asking you to think. You’re not wrong in your opinion, and that is the beauty of cinema.