Profoundly melancholy and devastatingly sad, A Ghost Story is a beautiful film about memory, loneliness and longing for something you lost forever

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story (2017)

Writ­ten and di­rect­ed by David Low­ery. Star­ring Casey Af­fleck, Rooney Mara, Will Old­ham, So­nia Aceve­do, Rob Zabrecky, Liz Franke, Grover Coul­son, Ken­neisha Thomp­son, Bar­low Ja­cobs, Mc­Colm Sephas Jr. and Kesha.

Ghost sto­ries are present in al­most every cul­ture in our world. You can find many ac­counts on the in­ter­net of haunt­ed hous­es, rest­less specters and de­ceased in­di­vid­u­als who refuse to cross over to the oth­er side and are tied to this plane of ex­is­tence for some emo­tion­al rea­son or a life they can’t leave be­hind. If those sto­ries are real, who knows. But they feed our col­lec­tive fears and are the very stuff of hor­ror films. A Ghost Sto­ry, David Low­ery’s for­ay into this su­per­nat­ur­al realm, is about a ghost — only it is told from the point of view of the ghost it­self as a melan­choly sto­ry about loss, lone­li­ness and long­ing for some­one who is gone. The real dread here comes with the re­al­iza­tion that you are but a shad­ow of who you used to be and what you had.

Writ­ten by Low­ery, who al­ready gave us the equal­ly melan­choly Ain’t Them Bod­ies Saints (2013), A Ghost Sto­ry be­gins with M (Rooney Mara) telling her hus­band C (Casey Af­fleck) that when she was lit­tle, she used to move all the time and hide small notes with things she want­ed to re­mem­ber, so that if she ever want­ed to go back, there would be a piece of her wait­ing. While C is a sen­si­tive com­pos­er at­tached to their home, M wants to move out. One day, C dies in a car ac­ci­dent and ris­es from the mortician’s ta­ble as a white-sheet­ed ghost. When a door full of light ap­pears be­fore him, he re­fus­es to go through and heads back home to be with his grief-strick­en wife. In­vis­i­ble to her, he can only wit­ness as time goes by and she grad­u­al­ly slips away.

Shoot­ing his film in an as­pect ra­tio of 1.33:1 with round­ed cor­ners to em­pha­size the character’s ex­is­tence as if trapped in­side a box, Low­ery in­tro­duces us to the couple’s re­la­tion­ship in a very eco­nom­i­cal way, like when they talk about tun­ing the pi­ano or when we see their af­fec­tion in bed. One night, they hear a mys­te­ri­ous bang on the pi­ano and the film’s as­pect even widens for a brief mo­ment as we see a bright spec­tral light float­ing among the stars in out­er space, as though evok­ing the cos­mic weight of ex­is­tence like in a Ter­rence Mal­ick film. Then, in an­oth­er scene, the cam­era pans from their home to show the car ac­ci­dent and C dead be­hind the wheel. There is a pow­er­ful, un­shak­able sense of in­escapa­bil­i­ty in all this.

The bluish palette af­ter C awakes as a ghost is op­pres­sive, and the white sheet with eye­holes is a cu­ri­ous sub­ver­sion of the goofi­est idea of a ghost, as he even drags the end of the sheet on the floor be­hind him fol­lowed by the kind of mu­sic we hear in hor­ror films. Low­ery lets us imag­ine the specter’s ex­pres­sions, like when he sees a pic­ture of the cou­ple to­geth­er in their house and a lamp sud­den­ly goes on be­hind him. Even more stun­ning in A Ghost Sto­ry is a long, un­in­ter­rupt­ed shot in which a griev­ing M de­vours an en­tire cake by her­self while the phan­tom watch­es mo­tion­less a few steps away. Or a lengthy mono­logue that is giv­en lat­er by a house­guest in a par­ty about how we hu­mans build our lega­cy to make sure we’re around af­ter we’re all in­evitably gone.

Thus, it is only per­fect that when M brings an­oth­er man home af­ter some time has passed, the ghost caus­es the book Love in the Time of Cholera (which is also about wait­ing as long as it takes for the per­son you tru­ly love) to fall open on a spe­cif­ic page as a mes­sage for her. Af­ter M leaves a small note in a slit in the wall and moves out, he stays be­hind in the emp­ty house, doomed to be haunt­ed by the eter­nal wait­ing — like an­oth­er ghost he meets and who has been wait­ing for so long she can’t re­mem­ber whom. The win­dow frames re­sem­ble prison bars, and this is the shad­ow of a man cling­ing to some­thing that is now be­yond reach, skip­ping in time like a bro­ken record as time flies by, in­ex­orably, through count­less ellipses.

Can’t con­vince myself/To turn it off/To let go,” he wrote in his song. Bound to the house and his mem­o­ries, the phan­tom is stuck in time, re­liv­ing his­to­ry and eter­nal­ly strug­gling to re­trieve his lover’s note from the slit. He doesn’t know yet that there is so much to un­der­stand be­fore he can suc­ceed, like the beau­ty, death and obliv­ion that have fol­lowed mankind since for­ev­er (no­tice that the pi­o­neer girl hums his song), or how we are nev­er meant to keep the things we cling to so des­per­ate­ly in life. Be­cause in the end we are all just wind.


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