In A Ghost Story, Casey Affleck plays a man who dies in a car accident, and returns to his home to comfort his grieving wife (Rooney Mara) as a spectral figure, but one of the more coy, or classic renditions of a ghost – the bed sheet with eye holes removed. She – of course – cannot see him. But he lingers… time passes. He lingers some more. He remains connected to the space, even when the space changes drastically over time.
It took a while for this work to get off the ground, for the overarching theme and message to be sieved through the stark, almost sill visuals. There are, perhaps 15 lines of dialogue in the whole thing (it certainly feels that way); this is film-as-art installation – one which is more concerned with meditating on a concept than it is propelling a narrative. It owes a certain amount – stylistically speaking – to Terrence Malick, but having said that, even Malick’s more ponderous, introspective works were never this pensive. It’s also fascinating to see that the director of a CGI-heavy Disney family film (Pete’s Dragon) can make an arthouse piece like this as his follow-up for less than $200,000.
A solid 30 minutes in, I was reflecting that this was little more than arty pretention; the subject of a coffee table book or art exhibit rather than a feature. As the first act wound up at the hour mark, it briefly occurred to me that this could potentially be a shorter film – a feature length piece at an hour. Which – strictly speaking – there’s no rules against it. If you can tell your story in an hour, tell it and we can all go home and applaud your economy of scale (hell, Duck Soup is only 68 minutes long and that thing’s a classic). But writer-director David Lowery’s narrative unfolds further, and goes to deeper, more profound places – it’s one which explores the concept of belonging, and the almost profoundly important concept of letting go.
This is a ‘horror’ film in concept alone. It’s a haunted house picture, but almost a silent one at that. One more focussed on deep, vastly elongated introspection than it is on thrills or spectacle.
This is a film guided by subtlety, by silences, by cadence. A scene where Rooney Mara’s character eats the better part of a whole pie is done in a single take and is as affecting a metaphor representing loss as any you’re likely to see (the hole left by someone’s absence literally cannot be filled with food). Overall, it’s a unique experience, one which provokes deep thought.
This is not something you see too much of in the multiplexes.