MPAA Rating: R
for brief language and a disturbing image
Runtime: 92 minutes
Directed by: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, McColm Cephas Jr.
If you’ve ever wondered whether life – yours or anyone’s – has any real meaning beyond the few years you walk the earth – you might want to see David Lowery’s A Ghost Story.But be prepared for a lot of silence and long, quiet shots.
Coming off his success with the big-budget Pete’s Dragon, Lowery turned to this low-budget experimental indie project that stars Casey Affleck and Mara Rooney, who had demonstrated amazing on-screen chemistry in his 2013 indie Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
A Ghost Story shot with a 40-page script in a Texas ranch home, introduces a young couple called only M (Rooney) and C (Affleck), deciding to sell their decaying house in the country and move closer to town.
M’s packing is interrupted by a car crash that kills C, and in that instant, her life is changed forever. In one of the most effective scenes, she sits on the kitchen floor, trying to assuage her grief by scarfing down a whole chocolate pie brought by a neighbor – and then runs for the bathroom.
M thinks she is alone, but C’s ghost gets up off that hospital gurney where she went to identify him and will haunt the rest of the story, a silent presence in a sheet with two eye holes. It’s difficult to imagine that this Halloween getup doesn’t inspire gales of laughter, but the somber tone has been set and instead the response (from me, anyway) was sadness.
In another bold move, Lowery shoots the film from the ghost’s viewpoint. And, by the way, that costume features an invisible helmet that keeps the eyeholes where they need to be – and several layers of petticoats to create a sense of shape. It’s amazing how much emotion can be read into this silent presence.
But life goes on, M does move and the house is left to newcomers and the ghost. We get why he is trapped in the house. People move in time, but then time itself begins to slip. At one point we move back to pioneer times; at another, a contemporary party guest (Will Oldham) pontificates drunkenly about the meaning of life and the yearning to leave a legacy.
Rooney has the right face for this unusual film and is equally effective with and without words. Affleck had an even more difficult task, and Lowery had to overcome an enormous challenge in filming him in the sheet. “If the sheet billowed the wrong way, it ruined the illusion,” he has said. Lowery also notes that “acting in the costume was the equivalent of dancing on a stage only a few centimeters in width.”
A Ghost Story is like no other film I’ve seen, a meditation on loss, grief and the longing to be remembered that gets its points across largely in silence. It requires the viewer to slow down and simply observe. I found the film frankly trying to watch, but I’m impressed by Lowery’s imagination and dedication.