A Ghost Story
A haunted house, a spectre bearing the most traditional of forms – a white sheet with two black circles where the eyes would be – and a love story truncated abruptly by death. The premise of A Ghost Story seems simple, almost banal. Yet, these familiar elements are used with such sophistication by director David Lowery that any initial resistance to them is likely to dissipate when the long, slow scenes finally reveal, by osmosis, a touching portrayal of human anxiety in the face of change. Rather than a story, the film expresses a mood and awakens the vague sadness and nostalgia usually associated with loss and letting go.
A young couple, M (Rooney Mara) and C (Casey Affleck), live in a suburban ranch. While M would like to move elsewhere, C seems attached to the quiet house. When C suddenly dies in a car accident, he immediately makes his way back to their home as a ghost. Unseen by M, he watches her deal with pain and loneliness, and eventually move on (and move out). C witnesses the coming and going of different occupants that inhabit the house in the years that follow. His strong desire to somehow maintain a connection with M prevents him from leaving the physical space they once shared, but the drastic transformations around him eventually overwhelm him.
Poignant and deeply affecting, A Ghost Story is ultimately a reflection on major existential questions. While it is visually and aurally attractive from the start, its true message only becomes apparent towards the end. Random snippets of different people’s life experience finally act as one force, exposing through their fleetingness the impermeability of our human legacy. The overall effect is witnessed by the Ghost and the audience alone, and deeper implications continue to sprout in the mind after viewing.
David Lowery does not rush his scenes in the least. In fact, he indulges in long spells of silence and stillness for longer than expected (and sometimes longer than seems necessary). He appears to invite the audience to adopt his meditative pace and he lingers until the melancholic mood is fully acknowledged and entered. In terms of cinematography, the claustrophobic and hazy feel is emphasised with the use of a narrower image (the film is shot in a 1:33 ratio), a muted palette and rounded edges, which give a distinctive look.
Mara and Affleck’s performances blend perfectly with the overall tone and, since the narrative is secondary, strong emotions become the central focus. A masterpiece of minimalism and grace, Lowery’s picture will reward those who open themselves to the philosophical discourse bubbling beneath the surface.
A Ghost Story is released nationwide on 11th August 2017. Watch our interview with director David Lowery here.
Watch the trailer for A Ghost Story here: