Showcasing one of the most simple and beautiful film posters of the year, a person stood in a white sheet with black holes for eyes looking like a cartoon ghost, A Ghost Story was always going to be exquisite or quirky to the edge of despair.
It’s fantastic to report that the film veers toward the former. Writer/director David Lowery last film was the Disney blockbuster Pete’s Dragon, he returns with something smaller in scale physically but far grander in its emotional themes. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star as a couple whose loving relationship is quickly established as caring and genuine. Lowery does a magnificent job with a handful of quick scenes to showcase the couples lives. They are three dimensional and believable despite never hearing their names; Affleck is noted as ‘C’ in the credits and Mara as ‘M’.
When ‘C’ is killed in a car accident, the film diverges from mere domestic drama into magical realism. Sitting up on his hospital gurney covered in the white sheet just used to cover his corpse ‘C’ walks the halls of the ward. A white light appears before him but instead of walking through he decides to walk back to the couples home (a sequence which features some breathtaking shots). Bare in mind that ‘C’ is still covered in a sheet and remains so throughout the rest of the film. Silent, stationary for a lot of the time and it’s actually Affleck under the ghostly visage. He watches over as ‘M’ grieves for her dead husband. He can only stand passive whilst he sees her in the throes of despair. It will take a stern person not to find Mara’s performance effecting in these moments or indeed the spectacle of it all.
Time seems to pass with abandon. I don’t suppose ghosts have much concept of time? ‘C’ watches as his wife tries to rebuild her life part of which means leaving their marital home to start afresh. This leaves ‘C’ all alone in the house they shared, desperately trying to read a message ‘M’ wrote for him and left in the wall as she was leaving. His minutequest is endlessly interrupted by the stream of new homeowners who come and go through the years.
In the closest sequence the film gets to horror, ‘C’ haunts a single mother and his two kids. Smashing plates and hurling furniture across the room. Potentially a comical visual but his frustration and his situation, the limbo he finds himself in becomes clear and becomes one of the most dramatic moments in the film. Time and the world moves on but ‘C’ does not. Staying put in the same spot as the house until he can find out what was left on the note he watches as the landscape changes around him.
Certainly not a film for all tastes. At only ninety minutes that may feel like a lifetime for some. Lowery is in no rush to tell his ghost story. It’s an idea that could have gone down as “would have worked better as a short” but it’s pathos emboldens the stately pace allowing you time to ponder your own life and relationships. Big themes while you’re sat in the cinema! The first thing I did when I came out of the screening was call my girlfriend just to speak to you. A Ghost Story is subtle dramatic storytelling at it’s finest.
Glorious photography by Andrew Droz Palermo gives the films a Terrence Malick quality. A Ghost Story certainly says more about love and the passage of time more than any of Malick’s recent indulgences. Despite it’s seemingly quirky conceit of having a man under a sheet it’s one of the finest American dramas in years. The films only misstep is an extended monologue from musician Will Oldham playing a drunk at a party, in a film built on quiet moments it comes across as tacky too “look everyone this is the point of the movie!”. That aside, it’s emotive, looks fantastic, features great performance and has a “haunting” score by the incredible Daniel Hart. Please see it.
Dir: David Lowery
Scr: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham
Prd: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnstone
DOP: Andrew Droz Palermo
Music: Daniel Hart
Run time: 89 mins
A Ghost Story is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital from 15th January