A GHOST STORY is completely and utterly its own thing. Films have explored these themes before, but rarely have we had an extended narrative from a spirit’s perspective that didn’t use that fact as a twist.
M (Rooney Mara) loses her husband C (Casey Affleck). As a ghost, C observes M in her grief as time marches on in his little corner of the world.
A Ghost Story explores and exploits the varied thematic poignancy of a sheet wonderfully. Early on in the couple’s tender love scene it’s a sensual object, as we transition to the morgue it’s a sombre and lifeless thing, as the soul in the shroud starts observing time passing around him it draws your eye and adds a strikingly, endearingly weird element to serious subject matter.
“C” may very well stand for Casper. I don’t think we should ignore how funny it is that for much of the movie, Best Actor-winning Casey Affleck is playing a slightly perplexed ghost standing in the corner of a room. That’s not to say C is a comic character, but the sight of him, if other characters could see him, might not induce an entirely horrified reaction. As is often the case in horror movies (though this isn’t one), children are far more aware of the supernatural, but a particularly moving moment towards the end of the film implies that C might not always be imperceptible by those he observes.
The film has a narrow focus on the most expansive of subject matters. Writer-director David Lowery explores life, death, our perception of everything from time to love, all within one house, within one intimate aspect ratio and limited field of vision. You know, the big stuff, except small. I saw this in a moderately sized cinema, with the curtains half-closed to accommodate this purposefully narrow point of view, and I was completely enraptured, almost hypnotised, and there was so much to unpack and discuss afterwards.
What a poignant image to have two Ghosts signing at each other from houses opposite each other. C’s opposite number in the spirit world (look up who plays her, it’s bizarre) matter-of-factly stating, “I’m waiting for someone”. Imagine if this is what the afterlife is, that you can carry on, but only observe your loved ones leaving?
Rooney Mara’s pie eating long-take (not a euphemism) is likely to be the scene of the year. It’s such a simple idea, and such an affecting and raw display of pure grief. I’d do something like that if I lost someone essential in my life. Affleck and Mara both earn plaudits for different reasons: Affleck has to convey so much with so little and clearly workshopped his body language extensively; with Mara there is nowhere to hide and our image of her character is so intimate and naked.
The music and wider soundscape is subtly emotive, the repeated signature track for C causes your spine to tingle, your eyes to mist. If it wasn’t for the crowd-pleasing BABY DRIVER track selection and the thematic wall of sound in DUNKIRK (funnily enough these make up my top three films of the year so far), I’d be calling Daniel Hart’s sonically playful creation my soundtrack of the year as well.
My only real criticism is that I feel A Ghost Story could have been longer. Not a lot happens, but you’re so immersed and emotionally invested that it’s gone in a flash, and a bit more time would allow the already strong emotions to really envelop you. If my only negative is that I would like to spend longer in this world, to have more time, I think everyone involved would approve, because that’s what it’s all about: time. This is a thoughtful, fulfilling, nigh-on spiritually enlightening experience at the cinema. SSP