Review: ‘A Ghost Story’

A Ghost Story | David Lowery | July 7, 2017

I am in the rare fortunate position of having lived in the same home for my entire life. Aside from my college days and the occasional sleepover at a friend’s place, this has been my literal sense of home and my sense of being. No matter where I move eventually, the image of my humble, unassuming home will come to mind. It’s my sense of gravity, my sense of place. It won’t be forever, but for now, this is it.

Love comes in many forms, not just the romantic one that Hollywood loves to obsess over, and a love of a sense of place is one of these. Love is eternal, or so they say.

This is one of the many universal themes of A Ghost Story, the latest from director David Lowery, who has quietly put together one of the most interesting filmographies, starting with indie darlings St. Nick and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and then expanded his reach helming Disney’s live-action Pete’s Dragon remake last year. With A Ghost Story, Lowery has released the best film of his exciting career.

A Ghost Story still - C (Casey Affleck) in a dilapidated house

Lowery, who also penned the script, focuses on the relationship of C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara). We are patiently introduced to their relationship, and their humble Texas home, which C has more of a personal attachment to than M. We see them cuddle, we see them argue; it’s not perfect, but it’s clear that they truly do love one another. This is no spoiler, but tragedy strikes and C is tragically killed, leaving M totally destroyed and devastated. This is the end for C in the human form, but we see him arise at the hospital morgue as a ghost covered in a white sheet, who casually finds himself walking across the town back to their home, watching M as she grieves over her loss.

C is stuck in the house, bound to the house in a way that he’s not quite able to move on from it yet. It’s believed that spirits are stuck here as there’s something in this world that they left unfinished and for him, it’s a part of both M and the house that he just can’t let go of. Although M eventually moves on and new families and owners come in, C is stuck throughout it all, left to wallow in solitude as he goes on what seems like a never-ending journey through time, both forwards and back.

A Ghost Story still - C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) sleeping

This isn’t a movie with a glossy happy ending planned, but rather a musing of existentialism and the meaning of love in many senses of being, time, and space. Lowery could’ve gone with many other ways to show C’s spirit form, but the simpleness of an old school white sheet specter works to perfection. We share the heartbreaking loss with M as she comes back to an empty house, at a loss on the next step. In what is already becoming an infamous scene of sorts, she copes by eating most of a pie in one sitting, done in one hell of a brave single take. There are no fancy tricks or cinematic breakthroughs, but a simplicity that speaks volumes.

On a technical level, A Ghost Story proves that it doesn’t take a 7-figure budget to make something larger than life. With immaculate cinematography from Andrew Droz Palermo and a haunting and totally sweeping score by the returning Daniel Hart, A Ghost Story is a total feast for both the eyes and the ears, as well as the heart.

Rooney Mara continues to prove why many consider her to be one of the best actresses that we’re lucky enough to have today, doing so much with just a look or a glance, making silence even more powerful than a spoken word. It’s ironic that Casey Affleck follows up his big Oscar win in a role that he spends most of the time hidden under a sheet, but the actors’ fluid movements have their own haunting power to them, largely in part to Lowery’s direction. There’s also a memorable monologue from Will Oldham (musician Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) who happens to appear in the same scene as Kesha. Yes, that Kesha.

A Ghost Story still - C (Casey Affleck) against a sunset

In many ways, Lowery’s career is only just getting started – with his next film being The Old Man and The Gun. But I don’t know if he’ll be able to create such a unique experience like this, which taps into something truly special here. It’s a profound exploratory journey that taps into our existence on not only a human level, but something much deeper, something spiritual and existential.

This certainly isn’t a film for everyone. It takes its time telling its story, going for a patient, leisurely pace that many audience members may find too slow. But if you can find a way to let the film transfix you and work its magic, you are in for a journey that you won’t ever experience in this way again. This is the sort of film that will effect each and every person differently, based on their own life experiences. It moved me a great deal and like a ghost of its own, it has been lingering on my mind ever since I left the theater, still finding ways to stay with me and move me.

If that’s not powerful filmmaking, I don’t know what is.

Rating: 9.0/10