There is so much I’d like to tell you (the reader) about David Lowery’s A Ghost Story but I cannot in fear of spoiling the film for those who hadn’t seen it. But here is some of what I’m happy to relay.
A Ghost Story (despite its title) is not a horror movie. It’s not even a haunted house tale per se, but it strangely haunts us all the same. What it is instead is a poetic meditation on life, love, death and time; which reunites David Lowery with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who all worked together on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013).
The interesting thing about the title is that it is exactly that – a ghost story. It’s the story of a guy, we simply refer to as C (Casey Affleck), who died in a car accident and comes back as a ghost. He walks around his house with a bedsheet with eyeholes gazing at his recently widow wife M (Rooney Mara) who is so grief stricken that she barely holds it together. He so desperately wants to communicate with his wife but the best that he can do are near-contacts with her or by flicking on lights and knocking over books to express his frustration and rage. Interestingly that scene where C knocks over the books may prove more important than we might think. When M goes to pick up one of the books off the floor she discovers its “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf, which tells the short story of a married couple whose house is haunted by two ghosts. It almost seems like a big fat clue. Hopefully you’ll get it by the end.
In time, as you might expect M eventually moves on with her life and leaves the house. But before she does she slips a note or letter into a crack in the doorframe before she drives away. C shambles desperately trying to retrieve it but to no avail. We never learn what it says and are left to conclude maybe it is something profound.
With M’s departure C is unfortunately left to co-exist with a cohort of new tenants who move into his old house. It is here that C finally lives up to his role as a hair-raising ghost, and in a moment of madness, he loses his shit and smashes plates and glasses completely terrifying a house full of occupants. I think it’s important to note here that his rage has everything to do with him being stuck in a supernatural realm or a version of the afterlife, where all that he can do is basically observe the world as it passes him by. Seriously, it’s a horrible lonely existence. It’s like his trapped in a state of purgatory.
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in ‘A Ghost Story’.
I can’t express how simple but effective this film is in its storytelling as we observe all that is going on with C and M. For C, time ceases to exist like it would for the living. (Eventually though, C is able to travel through time, but enough about that.) He’s left to haunt the house for several hundred years. That said, A Ghost Story in essence is all about the passage of time, which is an existential question director David Lowery has always been fascinated with.
So when everything is seemingly dragged out so painstakingly it’s done for good reason. Take for instance the films most talked about scene where M devours a whole pie. I have to laugh here because whenever I talk to someone who has seen this film they ask “What’s going on with that pie scene, hey?” It goes on for so long (beginning in the kitchen before she even pick up the pie) that many critics and moviegoers have said how ridiculous and boring it is. I think those people have missed the point of the scene. My take is that it’s meant to be some sort of meaningful intrusion of her privacy, especially as C stands within ear shot watching M gobbles down every single mouthful. Its excruciating nine minutes is meant as a metaphor to show her heartache and rage as she stress-eats herself to the point of throwing up.
On a final note, I’d like to briefly talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, those white sheets. That horrible Halloween kid attempt at dressing up as a ghost. While it might seem absurd or comical, it is instead curiously simple yet effective. In the hospital scene when M is finished viewing C’s body in the hospital morgue, C rises from underneath the hospital sheets. The sheets come to represent his new form now as a ghost. There is no trickery, CGI or Jedi force ghosts to over emphasis his transformation. Just a brilliant white sheet.
A Ghost Story is one of the best films of the 2010s. It was unlucky to miss out making my list of top ten favourite films of the 2010s. Now I wish I had given it more than just a honourable mention. After watching this film for a second time more recently I’ve come to appreciate all its intricacies, the emotive musical score and even the eerie haunting staring contest with Affleck under those sheets.
Wonderful write-up Robert. I somehow missed hearing about this film, but then, I’m so out of it anymore with regard to newer films, similar to how most people of my generation are totally out of it with regard to newer music.