A Ghost Story **** ½ / *****
Directed by: David Lowery.
Written by: David Lowery.
Starring: Casey Affleck (C), Rooney Mara (M), Will Oldham (Prognosticator), Sonia Acevedo (Maria), Carlos Bermudez (Carlos), Yasmina Gutierrez (Yasmina).
A Ghost Story is a movie that has been stripped to the barest of essentials. The plot is minimal, the dialogue even
A Ghost Story is an odd movie to be sure – you can call it haunting, and you’d be right, because it really it. But the film isn’t a horror movie, or even trying to be – it contains no real scares, no real intensity. It’s something deeper than that. If I’m being honest, most audiences are likely to be frustrated by the film. They’ll be looking for something that this film isn’t trying to deliver. That’s there loss though, because this is a fascinating, quietly profound film – one that sneaks up on you as you watch it, then doesn’t leave you alone for days after.
In the film, C (Casey Affleck) is a musician who lives in a house with his wife, M (Rooney Mara), somewhere in what appears to be rural Texas. He wants to stay, she wants to move – they argue – but then he dies in a car accident. In a truly haunting moment, she identifies the body, and then a sheet is pulled up over his head. The camera holds on that still tableau, second after second ticking by, until he sits bolt upright, and walks away. This is a ghost story after all. He returns to the home, and he watches as his wife grieves him – in a moment that has already become famous, she sits on the floor and eats a whole pie. She listens to a song he wrote her – and the film cuts back and forth between when she first heard it, and was angry, to her listening to it now, as she’s sad. Eventually, M will move out – and C stays behind. Other tenants arrive, and C doesn’t much care for them. There is first a young family, and later a group of hipsters throwing a party, at which – in the films single longest dialogue scene, Will Oldham delivers a long monologue about the mankind’s fruitless efforts to leave anything behind, because eventually, everything will be destroyed. You may think, since this scene goes on so long, that it is the films thesis, stated directly at the audience – but I don’t think so.
The movie plays games with time, as we watch similar scenes play out, one after another, again and again – C watching M leave for work in the morning for instance, and also contains huge leaps in time, done with jump cuts, not the more traditional fade out, fade in. C clearly wants something at the house. As time passes, the house changes – he’s stuck in a future world he doesn’t much understand – that is until he plunges back to the past.
This is the type of movie a director gets to make when he’s basically willing to fund it himself, and get his friends on board. David Lowery shot the film after completing Pete’s Dragon for Disney, and he got Affleck and Mara – who starred in his previous film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – to star. For Mara, this adds another fascinating performance to her resume – that this year already contains great work in Terrence Malick’s Song to Song. Like Malick – a clear influence on Lowery – this film uses her for her physical presence – she says little, but conveys a lot. For Affleck, it must have taken trust on his end to do the role – apparently, it really is him under that sheet most of the time – and the risk of him looking foolish was great. Both performances are good – in their way – but both are clearly archetypes more than anything else. Lowery purposes leaves these characters blank – likely to make it easier for the audience to project themselves onto the characters.