Synopsis: In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife. (Source)
Where do you even start with a film like A Ghost Story? Director David Lowery’s latest is something truly striking, a story as infinite and expansive as it is intimate, and it feels unfair to reduce its experience to mere words. Despite its title, this isn’t a horror film, but a reflective, personal portrait of the ways we linger on long after death. Playing off a long-held belief that our lives don’t end when we die, Lowery’s fable is one that envisions a universe in which past, present and future are constantly colliding, exploring the invisible forces that push and pull our souls in ways we can’t fathom. Told only with sparse dialogue, this near-silent film speaks volumes through delicacy and redefines the idea of a cinematic ghost, distilling spectral symbolism to its most primal form. With a story that stretches beyond the boundaries of time, life and death, Lowery has crafted an unclassifiable piece of art that’ll no doubt haunt the hearts and minds of those willing to surrender themselves to it.
The story is merely a starting point, beginning as an unassuming relationship that is tender, yet with untold secrets just waiting to be revealed. A couple, known only as C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) seem to be happy together, but each harbor different ideas on where they envision their lives going. Anything in motion between the two is abruptly halted when a car accident takes C’s life. Rising from a morgue gurney and claiming the white sheet placed over his body, C ignores a bright white light, instead returning to his humble home, silently watching over his wife as she struggles with her loss. The forces that drove C to return home reveal to him something he could never attain in life.
Right from the get, it becomes apparent that Lowery isn’t interested in or limited to a simple, linear narrative. In this film, existence isn’t a straight line, but the result of a number of variables coming together, with beginnings, endings, heartbreak and triumph all occurring at the same time. To that effect, Lowery’s film is more like a surreal lucid dream, connecting time and legacy through, song, emotion and ideas, and making for a disorienting experience that’s as bewildering as it is graceful. All of this works to put us in the shoes of C’s ghost, a wholly original perspective that feels as untethered as its fleeting search for closure. In essence, this is a beautiful attempt to literally peak behind the veil, with Lowery manifesting the machinations of fate and the lingering effects that each one of us have to our surroundings. As you can imagine, the film is breathtaking thanks to its succinct visual poetry, throwing in some sly humor while remaining anchored with bittersweet observations about fate and circumstance.
With a film like this, performances adapt a more experimental nature, and there are some standouts. As M, Rooney Mara’s role is not what we expect. At the risk of ruining the film’s surprises, Mara embodies a genuine sense of melancholy and grief, both of which transform into something through her ability to say so much through deliberate limitation. She has a few standouts scenes, carrying them by accentuating an aura of uncertainty but eventually hope. As C, Casey Affleck has to do something totally unique, having only a few moments of traditional performance before hovering over the entire film under a white sheet. Affleck’s performance is defined by delicate movements, shaped by Lowery’s direction and Affleck’s ability to give his nebulous entity a sense of loneliness and longing. As a breath of fresh air toward’s the film’s midsection, musician Will Oldham has a scene in which he monologues about the inevitability of death and destruction. It’s a moment that could’ve played out a bit ham-fisted, but he makes it work in a fun, engrossing way. These performances, more than most films are a smaller piece of the whole, but hold their own and give everything a human texture.
Tackling legacy, memory and a shifting perspective on existence, A Ghost Story has found a way to explore the parts of ourselves we leave behind, and how the journey isn’t any less significant just because it ends. Narratively sparse, but high on an overwhelmingly complex set of ideas, Lowery paints a big picture made up of the small, seemingly mundane moments that make up our lives, moments which here hold sobering implications in the face of eternity. By framing his themes with the moments between the frames, trivial, yet observational vignettes hold power with what isn’t explicitly said, but felt. By all accounts a brave, original vision, Lowery’s latest a masterful achievement that speaks to the innate fears and hopes that make us human – it’s a film that isn’t to be missed, and one that commands our attention long after its over.