“A Ghost Story” (2017)
Written and Directed by: David Lowery
Featuring: Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara
Houseguest: “We build our legacy piece by piece and maybe the whole world will remember you or maybe just a couple of people, but you do what you can to make sure you’re still around after you’re gone.”
It can be revelatory when filmmakers have a limited budget, limited time or even limited time with talent and crew what they are able to produce. It is one of the reasons why some filmmakers produce their best work at the beginning of their careers, when they are ‘struggling’ with resources. With that said it is fairly rare for a director to release two movies within twelve months of each other that could be considered to be so far apart in the type of film produced. So we have writer/director David Lowry who this week has the excellent independent US$100,,000 budgeted “A Ghost Story” (2017) released less than a year after his US$65 million remake “Pete’s Dragon” (2016), what a contrast.
David Lowry made a splash with his high profile film “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (2013) featuring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in lead roles, it was a slow burning drama with hints of thriller elements as well as a touch of film noir. It was primarily based around three characters, their relationship that transcended time as well as geography and the pull that people can have with each other in extreme situations. With his new film “A Ghost Story”, Lowry reteams with Affleck and Mara in a tale that has a fairly straight forward plot but comes alive in its narrative discourse as well as its meta-physical leanings that are its real strength. Like the best films it really does defy an easy description, will be enjoyed by people looking for some deeper meaning, not needing any concrete answers and wanting something that will stay with them long after the credits roll at the conclusion of this well crafted ode to love, death, loss and ultimately hope.
C (Casey Affleck) is a musician living with his wife M (Rooney Mara) in a small suburban house in the Southern US. One night, they hear a heavy bang on their piano, but are unable to find the cause for the noise. Some time later, C is killed in a car accident outside his home. At the morgue, he awakens as a ghost covered in a white sheet with two black holes for eyes. As he wanders aimlessly through the hospital, while no one else is able to see him, he comes to the end of a hallway and sees a doorway of bright flashing light open in front of him. After staring at it, the doorway eventually closes and he walks away. C’s ghost leaves the hospital and returns to his house, watching his wife grieve over her loss.
This really is a different kind of film for those brought up on the love story featuring a ghost, “Ghost” (1990), which traded on the idea of an afterlife that was all righteous and full of comedy with a hint of religious affirmations thrown in for good measure. In fact “A Ghost Story” offers the idea of being linked to a place that is so strong that time becomes meaningless, as do the people you may leave when you die. The very notion of being bound to someone is something many people have in common; the idea that you may somehow stick around watching your loved ones is not an uncommon thought. At the outset of the movie ‘M’ says that she leaves a note behind in every house she has lived in so that there is always something of her within that building – a budding memory or a seed that only she would know about. So it is interesting that within this story when ‘C’ eventually dies he is that thing that is left within the building that no-one knows about, a haunting memory that becomes part of the structure around him, he stays the same, while everything else alters throughout time.
This is beautifully crafted and directed by Lowry who lingers on characters in very long takes that are in and by themselves mundane, but put together show the passage of time in precise segments. These long takes are extremely important for a variety of reasons; they give the actors freedom to really go for it within the frame, with no sense of urgency – reflecting real life. This is no more so than when after a friend leaves a pie for ‘M’ to eat, she returns home, obviously feeling low, proceeds to attempt to eat the entire pie – almost all done in real time. This highlights something that I feel strongly about, that is that grief makes you do the strangest things and there can be little rhyme or reason for them – just feeling something else anything else other than grief can be ones aim.
It may be difficult to believe but it is indeed Casey Affleck under a sheet for a majority of this film, and as daft as that may sound I thought it actually worked incredibly well, it’s a good way to deal with having a ghost in a room. A sheet with a person underneath is one of the early ways you describe someone as a ghost, it is a primal thing to see on screen, particularly for an extended period of time. The leads of Affleck and Mara have definite chemistry onscreen and I thought they were totally believable in their roles. I found that even though we do not spend an inordinate amount of time with them as a couple, I was heartbroken when he died; the scene when ‘M’ is at the morgue, it is just a sad moment in her life, once again a long take sharing her grief in real time.
I don’t want to give away too much with this review, because as the actual plot shifts from being relevant to not being important to being relevant again, it is the narrative that takes over, where as a viewer we will live for a large amount of the running time. I will say that every aspect of this film is important; we will stay with ‘C’ for the entire film, as he stays with ‘M’ wanting to look after her, to hold her but of course is unable to. The way his story unfolds is unique as he (and us) wonders what the point of existence is, why he is hanging around, until he (and us) slowly seem to be working out his purpose, albeit in an extremely surreal way.
I have to say that if you want to watch just a really great film that is not afraid to tackle some serious and scary subjects then you will be richly rewarded with “A Ghost Story”. I would recommend taking someone close to you to view, as you can have a good chat about it afterwards. So far this year there have been too many mediocre films that are afraid to really go for it. This is a film by a gifted director who has had the opportunity to make a film with two excellent film actors’ that know their place in the story and are able to accommodate the directors vision. I for one hope the three of them make more films together.
“A Ghost Story” is out now only in cinemas.