Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)
Synopsis: Haunting and harrowing, A Ghost Story confronts the truism that in a dark and cold universe our lives and legacies are inconsequential mayflies, leaving only the churning shadow of mortality. Couple C (Casey Affleck), a musician, and his wife M (Rooney Mara) are suddenly and tragically torn apart when C dies in a car accident in front of their quiet home. In C’s return as a ghost and haunting of his former home, writer and director David Lowery searches for a spiritual answer to death.
Visually, A Ghost Story is closer to a long piece of video art more comfortable in the quiet white walls of a modern museum. Sparse with dialogue and even motion, the film often becomes a beautiful slideshow of still images, framed through doorways and windows as the ghost perceives life coldly from the outside. There is almost a Vermeeresque knack to how Lowery composes these images. Through Lowery’s eyes, ordinary structures and objects bleed into one flowing image while audio samples of the world outside, or Daniel Heart’s score ebb and flow across it. C’s presence, returning as a simple white sheet with black eye holes, has an unsettling simplicity. Given the aspect ratio of the film and the ghost’s faceless presences, shots felt like uncovered old photos of seances, with C poised to lunge at the unaware people caught in the frame. C’s own disconnect with the world is poignantly conveyed by motion. The world seems deathly still even before C’s death. The inhabitants of C’s home move on and as C persists, the camera begins to spin between rooms while C shifts his gaze while days become months at a dizzying pace.
(Affleck as C’s ghost along with director David Lowery)
Affleck and Mara perform well in their roles as props for Lowery’s vision and Daniel Heart’s soundtrack when either actor appears on the screen. Heart cannot be praised enough for his work on A Ghost Story. C’s ghost could have been a difficult character to connect with, but through Heart’s soundtrack the ghost becomes a canvas onto which each new song projects a different emotion. Heart’s work really conveys the ghost’s mounting anger and frustration, along with Lowery’s focus on the ghost’s expressionless face as lights flicker in response to his rage. The ghost’s maligned presence in various frames at times emanates menace or isolation.
A Ghost Story’s experimental reliance upon image and sound will cause many people to justifiably leave the cinema in the first twenty minutes. Although beautiful, the film is peppered with moments of dead time where nothing happens. In one particular scene Rooney Mara, grief stricken, makes a meal out of a pie. The camera, without music or words, unflinchingly records Mara breakdown as she shovels the pie and crust until running away to vomit. These moments, like the one-man pie contest, are a struggle which only ardent art house cinema fans will persist through. Yet A Ghost Story is a rewarding experience with themes that few directors or film studios are willing to explore. The house and C’s return represent our shared fear of oblivion, to see whether the world remembers us. The world will likely not remember us and the only thing to do is leave little notes like M does, and let go.
After immediate viewing, A Ghost Story was going to receive three stars but in the passing week I have found myself revisiting the film, its ideas, and its haunting musical score. In retrospect the film is a struggle to watch, but many will appreciate it more in the days afterwards. Thanks to A24 for backing such a refreshingly unusual film.
For trailer, see below.
By Saul Shimmin