A Ghost Story is an experimental film that goes beyond expectations with each scene. It’s a trip without the hallucinogens, one that brings on a sense of calm yet will also leave you uneasy and tense.
Written and directed by David Lowery, A Ghost Story stars Casey Affleck, an actor whose career has seemed to reside on the fringes of Hollywood. However, since his Oscar win for his starring role in Manchester by the Sea this February, he has been working non-stop. Emerging from his brother Ben Affleck’s shadow, Casey has solidified his place as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors.
The film also stars Rooney Mara of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fresh off the buzz of the much talked about Carol, Mara surprises us again with a completely different choice in role.
Affleck and Mara play C and M, a couple who seem to see each other as the only people in the world, their world; the only place they feel safe. The characters are genuine. They disagree with each other, they reconcile, they kiss and they caress one another. There are walls but there is understanding. Not long after we come to understand their love, C dies in a car crash. From this point on C is a ghost, a bed sheet over his head like a lazy kid dressed up for Halloween.
The plainness of C’s ghost somehow makes the character both ominous and melancholic as he drifts through scenes unnoticed. He watches his partner’s journey through mourning and he becomes fixated on reading a note that she has left but the pace of the world and the people in it makes this difficult. C’s ghost can only observe.
His helplessness and the frustration that accompanies it is what keep your attention rapt. There are people who suffer and there are witnesses to suffering, but there’s little that can be done. This becomes the film’s unique perspective.
The film makes us wonder about the continuity of history and the never-ending changes that build it. What happens today isn’t likely to matter in a few years as there are so many experiences both good and bad that await us.
A Ghost Story also calls into question notions of life after death. Do the dead, especially those who haven’t lived a completely fulfilled life, witness the ignorance of the living? The realization that mistakes are repeated and poor decisions will always keep being made is an idea that haunts this film. It explores the strength we must maintain to endure our own foibles. The source of this strength is the love that C and M have for one another. For the ghost of C, the note he’s desperately seeking to read represents that.
A Ghost Story is a film that could easily play on clichés and horror tropes but it avoids them. It’s a cosmic trip that actually explores these clichés and why they’re so prevalent. There are scenes that are filmed seemingly in real-time and then there are scenes that skip generations, all revolving around one unchanging element, the ghost, the watcher.
A Ghost Story will leave you with many questions: What is history? What is spirituality? And what is good and what is evil when love is not absolute?