In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.
Before we get started I do want to say: David Lowery is Dallas’ son. Being a filmmaker from Dallas and also a very good one makes him Dallas’ son, whether he likes it or not. Too many magazines say otherwise. Also, I once met David Lowery when I was twelve years old at a screening for his first short: “St. Nick.” At the time I remember feeling slightly bored by it (two kids run away, then get caught, then go home.) But I did catch THE David Lowery standing outside and I asked him how to be a filmmaker to which he answered: “Just keep doing it.” So, yeah. Cool!
Nothing in “A Ghost Story” exists without purpose. The story of a haunting told from the perspective of the ghost, except this ghost travels through time, and challenges our perspectives. The first third of the movie relates to (technically) setting up the ghost concept. Where it feels like it drags is the first scene, and yet it still feels incredibly artful.
We watch Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck generally love each other, fight a little, and slowly start to move out of their house. The movie languishes on this relationship, giving it the emotional depth and heart it needs for the rest of the film to work. This opening establishes the pacing for the rest of the film as well. We’re treated to what must have been a five minute shot of Rooney Mara gorging herself on the pie, transitioning from one emotion to another until finally she gives up and vomits in the bathroom. Was it gratuitous? No.
The thing about “A Ghost Story” is that it’s one of magnificent scope. Drawing on our oldest, simplest imagery the ghost of Casey Affleck haunts his house after his wife moves out, after countless others move in and after it gets demolished and turned into a skyscraper and then after people first settle on the land. This ghost, looking for closure, subs in for all of us by being the simplest representation of something we all have: lingering doubt. It just so happens this ghost’s search for closure spans entirely different time periods. That’s what makes the film feel cosmic. So it has to have foundations in something so intimate we all recognize it.
I admit I puzzled over the opening third of the film, but as the movie steadily hones in on its conclusion, you’re granted with a vision of the ending that is as satisfying as it is imminent. We start with an intimate perspective on a couple, then peel back, haunting by haunting to look at the fabric of our cosmos. The film asks at different points: what is the value of our legacy? Why do we do anything? What gives us purpose? It returns to the intimacy of the first third when time catches up and the ghost haunts himself. Suddenly the first third is completely validated and the sense of restlessness changes to an inevitable, massive feeling of fate. It had to end that way, and we didn’t realize it until the scope was fully revealed to us.
Rooney Mara performs long takes with no interruptions, giving us the most human and relatable experience. Casey Affleck delivers his lines with the same quasi-introspective accent he used in “Manchester by the Sea.” I wouldn’t attend purely for the acting since the protagonist wears a sheet over his head the entire time. I will say the film does not take itself too seriously, offering moments of levity to break up the ‘gravitas’ you get from those impassioned monologs about existence. It’s much more about mood than it is about story, but the story performs so well in its simplicity. Featuring a haunting score by Daniel Hart throughout, shifting and changing the movie into recognizable touchstones for ghost haunting movies, “A Ghost Story” wears many hats.
I loved it. I’d recommend everyone go and see it, even if it isn’t your kind of film. That being said, if you’re going to go, make sure you sit down and relax a little. Try not to see it on a busy day. Don’t ask questions, just follow where the film takes you and it will show you its beauty.
Now playing in select theaters