A young couple, known only as C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) move into a new house where they notice something a bit off about it. After the move, C ends up in a car crash and gets killed. He walks up from his autopsy table under a white sheet, a ghost. He watches over his grieving widow as time begins to move a little differently for our spectral protagonist.
A Ghost Story was a, well, story I thought I knew exactly where it was going. About grief, and how the memory of a loved one can stay with you. Lingering on in the background, forever reminding you of their legacy. Then it takes a direction I was not expecting, and to be honest it’s all the richer for it. it’s a bold, bewildering but overall rewarding film about time, humanity, our collective struggle for purpose and the idea of eternity.
The white sheet ghost costume is an eternal staple of what a ‘ghost’ is. The image is simple and rudimentary, but iconic in what it represents for our ideas of ghosts-it’s instantly recognisable. It was smart of writer/director David Lowery to frame the story entirely around this image. It gives the audience a very familiar image to help ground them in this pretty complex and esoteric story. The idea of focusing it on the nearly-wordless spirit is great, as it gives the tone room to be suitably mysterious while also having something to invest into on the journey.
Both lead actors are great, though there naturally isn’t too much to talk about there as they aren’t in the film for so long, particularly Affleck who gets outsourced for a sheet. Rooney Mara gives another fantastic performance, having to embody the quiet elation and devastating loss of being in love. This includes a now infamous moment where she sits on the floor and eats an entire pie in one, unbroken shot that goes on for a good 5-10 minutes. It’s evocative and well-staged, so it lands incredibly well and painfully exemplifies the mundane depths of mourning.
If I have any issues, it probably has to do with Will Oldham’s speech. While well performed and competently written, it’s a bit too on-the-nose in terms of spelling out the thematic substance of the movie. They did such a great job in the second half dealing with rather complex and interesting ideas that having a character just tell us in part what is happening just felt a little cheap, personally.
Despite all that, A Ghost Story is, and excuse the pun here, haunting. It’s moody, excellently shot, and masterfully omnipresent with the surprising direction it decides to take. It’s definitely a challenging film with a lot of flourishes and artistically-driven ideas, but it’s grounded in a simple love story, and even simpler image, that it manages to get its ideas across in a very organic and evocative fashion. It’s a film that does exactly what it wishes to, and I respect anybody that can draw out that kind of achievement. Be they living or dead.