Directed by: David Lowery.
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Rob Zabrecky, Kesha
Plot: A young married couples life together is brought to a tragic end by an untimely passing.
It was no big surprise that I would be drawn to A Ghost Story, as regular readers know, I am absolutely enamoured by ghost stories in general so I was obviously going to check this film out. It took me awhile due to the film being on a very limited cinema release in the UK and not showing anywhere in my locality, The bane of any lover of independent films not overtly catering for mass consumption. The question is, is A Ghost Story worthy of your time?
A Ghost Story isn’t your quintessential supernatural cinematic fare, it is a slow burn exploration of loss, the human need for connection and the possibility of a love being so strong it endures even past our own demise, holding us to this world as an unseen observer, longing but never being able to truly let go. When I say that A Ghost Story is a slow burn, I really do mean a SLOW burn, we linger on the painful mundanity of picking up the pieces and trying to remember how to even continue doing normal everyday tasks whilst experiencing the most abject emotional pain & loss, we experience this not just through Rooney Mara’s grieving wife but also through Casey Afleck’s mournful spectre of her recently dead husband, wandering through what he leaves behind after his death as a silent observer shrouded in a white morgue sheet appearing like some kind of childlike approximation of what a Ghost would look like. There is a deep sadness that accompanies the spirits we see in this film, wordless and still, Affleck encounters another spirit occupying a house adjacent to his and find they can communicate telepathically but they can remember very little of why they still cling to their lives, a post-death dementia almost as seen when Affleck asks who the female spirit is waiting for she replies “I don’t remember”, the mind of these spirits degrading with the ceaseless passage of time.
A Ghost Story has a minimal cast, Rooney Mara portrays the numbness of loss in a painfully accurate manner, trying to carry out the most mundane of day to day tasks with an unfathomable sadness hanging over her. Affleck has the task of a pretty standard acting role whilst he is alive, the familiar beats of married life and being in a relationship, only when he dies does his approach have to change. Being clad in a sheet with eye holes for the majority of the film, it’s tasked to Affleck to imbue a mournfulness that avoids falling into being perceived as daft, it can not be easy to approach a scene with such stillness, to make every movement of his head say something about what his character is feeling in what he observes without facial expression, it’s quite a remarkable feat. We get an number of cameos from established musicians also, the female spectre is played by Kesha, Will ‘Bonny Prince Billy’ Oldham plays the pretentious guy at a party that everyone would want to avoid, the kind of guy who is still ticking at the early hours and holding court with pseudo-intellectual wisdom aimed at anyone in his vicinity, he’s is actually great in his single scene though.
A Ghost Story is a hard sell, there’s no doubt in that, as it’s end credits roll you are either going to think it was garbage or, like myself, see an absolute masterwork in cinematography encased in a thoughtful & artistic take on the nature of love, loss, our perception of time and the very nature of what it is to be human, there is no middle ground with this film. Is there a perceived amount of pretension involved? I’d have to begrudgingly say yes but when it is seamlessly weaves into something so beautiful and expertly crafted, a little pretension can be forgiven in trying to relate subjects so weighty in a palatable and engaging way. A Ghost Story is one of the best films released last year and one I only wish I had seen sooner to add to my top films of 2017 as it would have enjoyed a place in its upmost tier.