UK Release Date: 11th August 2017
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Will Oldham
Synopsis: When a man dies in a car accident, he returns to the world as a ghost and is able to visit his home, where he observes his wife as she grieves for him, only to find he still has unfinished business on Earth.
When we watched Casey Affleck take to the stage of the Dolby Theatre earlier this year to collect an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, we all had ideas about what his next role might be. I imagine that few people would have expected his next film to see him covered with a white sheet for almost 90 minutes, spending almost all of his time standing still and silent in the corner of rooms. Step forward, A Ghost Story from Pete’s Dragon director David Lowery, which is one of the most unusual and frustrating films of the year – but also one of the most interesting.
M (Rooney Mara) and C (Affleck) are living in a small suburban bungalow. C, a struggling musician, is not keen to move elsewhere, but M is desperate to find a new home. Soon after, C dies in a car accident, but seemingly returns to some form of life on the mortuary slab and walks around inside a sheet. He visits M at his former home and watches her as she completes the grieving process.
One of the few things you can say with any certainty about A Ghost Story is that it’s not for everyone. It’s a slow-paced, ethereal tale with little in the way of plot and even less dialogue. Lowery has made a film that feels like a true example of an auteurist vision, crafting a drama that focuses on the stillness of grief. In the film’s most widely discussed scene, we get a bracingly honest depiction of bereavement as Rooney Mara slumps against a kitchen counter and silently, methodically eats an entire chocolate pie in a five-minute single take. It’s not big and showy, but it does feel real, allowing the audience to intrude via Affleck into a kind of grief we are rarely able to observe for ourselves.
Lowery appears to be greatly intrigued by the notion of passive watching. We see Affleck’s character express a sort of blasé detachment when he’s alive, which is reflected in his ghost, who is forced to stand idly by and watch as the world moves on around him. While the story at first gives a heart-breaking look at how Mara grieves for the loss of Affleck, it takes an abrupt left-turn at the halfway point to become something stranger and more metaphysical, while maintaining the same serene, dreamlike tone. From an intimate discussion of reality, Lowery suddenly gives his story a more all-encompassing, poetic slant.
As interesting as A Ghost Story is, there are elements of the film that are ultimately rather frustrating. The movie often feels like a locked box that holds secrets within it, but Lowery withholds the key. It’s a mystery without a solution and a treasure trove without a map to lead the way. Lowery’s directorial style and focus on silence certainly creates a mood, but it also obscures the message. The tension and intrigue created with the focus on Mara’s grief in the early stages is lost to a degree when the film reaches for something bigger and it loses its way somewhat in the time-bending third act.
A Ghost Story, despite its flaws, is a unique cinema experience that deserves to be seen. After making a huge Disney movie with Pete’s Dragon, this feels like a director enjoying the freedom to get out there and make a true passion project. The performances are compelling and the dreamlike tone really works its way under your skin. A Ghost Story is a film that is almost impossible to work out as it unfolds in front of you, but it does undoubtedly make you think and make you feel, which is delightful in the midst of a summer of increasingly poor blockbusters.
Pop or Poop?
David Lowery has made something truly special with A Ghosy Story, even if it doesn’t always deliver as a work of narrative cinema. It’s low on plot, low on dialogue and low on explanation, creating a work that is baffling, but potent. For every moment of head-scratching weirdness, there’s another of remarkable emotional power. This one’s worth seeing on the big screen.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.