Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that make for the best sources of inspiration. In the right hands a simple concept or story can transform into something much deeper and more significant than it maybe ever deserved to be. These are the thoughts that went though my head after I finally got the opportunity to view “A Ghost Story”, one of the most talked about artistic movies of the year that, sadly, was held back by limited release. After hearing so much about this supernatural drama that kind of delves into the world of horror I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself, and what an experience it was.
“A Ghost Story” is named using a play on words. This isn’t your average campfire tale. No, this is the actually story of a ghost who suffers from an inability to move on. Directed and written by David Lowery, “A Ghost Story” was inspired by the stereotypical ghost costume, a sheet over a human body with eyeholes. Casey Affleck plays a man simply named C who is in a rough relationship with Rooney Mara’s M. C perishes in a car crash an awakens as a ghost underneath a sheet. Making his way back to his home C experiences moments in M’s life in seconds, occasionally making himself known in simple ways, before she finally leaves the home for good, leaving only a note hidden in a wall. As time goes by C haunts the new inhabitants of his home one by one, trying helplessly to retrieve the note. As the years tick by second after second C finds himself trapped in a seemingly endless and pointless existence unable to communicate or move on.
“A Ghost Story” is a truly intriguing tail and one that takes a delightfully simple concept and expands it into an amazing cinematic experience filled with nuances and bleeding artistic quality. I will be the first to admit it takes a certain degree of commitment and patience to get through this whole film. “A Ghost Story” is a well paced 1.5 hour experience that, like many other films before it in 2017, demands respect and attention and thought to truly appreciate. “A Ghost Story” does so much with so little it’s actually astonishing, telling the story of a man who is torn by unfinished business in his life after death and finds himself caught in a seemingly endless reality that is a metaphor for the expansive reality of time. Some have billed this is a nuanced horror film and I can see why. However, this is not a scary movie in the sense that it will make you jump or bring you anxiety. This movie’s true impact comes from the fear of the unknown…the fear of death and what that might truly mean for us if we die without closure and the fear of being forgotten and unseen.
The entire film revolves around C, a musician who starts the film alive and well but soon finds himself a ghost trying to come to grips with his new reality. Casey Affleck spends the bulk of the film in a stereotypical sheet ghost costume, simply staring or slowly moving and looking around rooms. While this might not seem like much it’s a pretty powerful and controlled performance as Affleck manages to express so much with so little. He was a frustrated artist in life, and now he is a forgotten and unseen figure in death as well. We feel his sadness, his hopelessness, his longing for peace…and most of all his longing for answers as he experiences the living seeking the same closure in their own lives. While Affleck may have his naysayers, this performance and his Oscar winning role in “Manchester By The Sea” prove he is a master of subtly. We can see and feel everything about C even with a cloth over his face the whole time.
While she is not on screen for the entire film Rooney Mara as M should also be commended especially in her portrayal of the character in the aftermath of C’s passing. There’s one scene where she sits and eats an entire pie in one sitting. That’s it, that’s all she does. One long shot of her downing a pie given to her to help make her feel better. It’s an interesting moment that is drawn out and powerfully human as we experience an amazingly pure example of grief. While she doesn’t have much to work with, Mara also makes the most of the simplicity of her role to portray a believably heartbroken and frustrated but powerfully confident woman with whom we can all relate.
Together Affleck and Mara make a great on screen couple. There’s a certain awkward chemistry between the two and while their interactions are mostly in the start and end of the movie or in flashbacks it’s not hard to believe that these two people have an emotional connection. Their relationship is clearly imperfect, but that’s part of its charm. When the two do get romantic, especially in one particular scene in the movie’s first act, there’s a true fire between them. It’s not lust or eroticism and it may not even be love, but I was extremely surprised by how well these two portrayed a pair of people who feel for each other and connect with each other despite their differences. At that point in the film it was important for these two to project the relationship effectively. To me that moment defined how believable the rest of the film would come to be and the rest fell right into place for an overall complete story worth experiencing.
Now to focus on the bigger story. “A Ghost Story” is a tale filled with questions and few answers. We are left in the dark about exactly how C’s new existence works so that we, too, are as confused, lost, and bewildered as he is. We don’t understand everything that’s going on, but still the film remains focused and relatively easy to follow if you give it the time of day. David Lowery had a vision and he made it happen, taking a concept we all know and what has really become a Halloween cliché and making it something more imaginative, deep, and complex. We even see a second ghost, one who is apparently female, who is equally as lost, confused and lonely as C which helps establish a larger world beyond the walls of C’s home and shows us C’s situation is not a fluke. Little details like this and C’s status as a struggling musician are all carefully designed to play into the larger themes of the film. This creates many questions about the afterlife and human existence and blends them with concepts of grief, loss, and what it truly means to be human. And it was all inspired by a simple cliché ghost costume.
For me “A Ghost Story” was downright fantastic. It’s ambitious, it’s well directed and acted, and it takes simplicity and makes it complicated not just as a story, but as an emotional experience as well. It’s not a horror movie really, but it is a fantastic drama that focuses on the fear of being left alone and the fear of what it would be like if the “other side” was more complicated than it seemed. This film takes the concept of a ghost and flips it right on its head giving us something we truly don’t expect and may never see again done quite this well. While it is certainly an acquired taste, an open mind will see the beauty in this fantastic film and I can safely say that after everything I heard about it the experience was worth the wait.