A Ghost Story

a-ghost-story-rev A Ghost Story  (2017)    A24/Drama-Fantasy    RT: 92 minutes    Rated R (brief language, a disturbing image)    Director: David Lowery    Screenplay: David Lowery    Music: Daniel Hart    Cinematography: Andrew Droz Palermo    Release date: July 21, 2017 (US)    Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara. 

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 Bold is the movie that refuses to explain itself. It runs the risk of alienating audience members unwilling to accept films without a traditional narrative structure. Films like this aren’t made for mass consumption. They’re made for that select group of serious filmgoers looking for more than just eye candy. That description definitely applies to A Ghost Story, a disarming piece from writer-director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints). It’s a movie you’ll either love or hate. You’ll either get it or you won’t. There’s no in-between with A Ghost Story. Either way, you’ll be thinking about it for days afterwards. I think it’s absolutely brilliant.

 a ghost storyI’m very tempted to forgo reviewing A Ghost Story any further and just telling you to go see it. I want people to go in fresh without any biases or interpretations that will influence how they view it. It should be left up to them to figure out what it all means. I’ll be honest, I’m still working on that myself. How can I possibly review a film I’m still trying to figure out? At the same time, I have an obligation not just to tell you it’s worth seeing but why it’s worth seeing. I’m going to be as vague as I can in discussing the plot and other aspects of A Ghost Story as I don’t want to drop any spoilers. However, I can’t guarantee you I won’t. If you plan to see it, I urge you to stop reading right now. This is your one and only warning.

 As promised by the title, A Ghost Story is a ghost story but only in the sense that it has a ghost in it. It’s NOT a horror movie with a lot of flashy CGI effects, cheap “BOO!” scenes and dumb teens. There are only two main characters, C (Affleck, Manchester by the Sea) and M (Mara, Lion). He’s a struggling musician who lives with his wife in a small Texas home surrounded by undeveloped flatland. Early on, they hear a heavy bang on the piano in the dead of night but cannot find the cause. A little later, he’s killed in car accident outside their home. Shortly after she identifies him in the morgue, he rises from the table covered in a white sheet with two black holes for eyes. He makes his way back to his old house where he watches M go through the various stages of grief. There comes a point when she moves out and he remains behind for a very long time. That’s all I’m going to tell you about the story.

 A Ghost Story utilizes an aspect ratio of 1:33:1 which gives the frame a square, box-like appearance. It gives the movie a claustrophobic feel. Given that it’s basically about a man trapped in one place for an eternity, it makes perfect sense to film it in such a manner. Lowery has an interesting way of depicting the passage of time. Instead of fading to black or speeding up the picture, he uses hard cuts meaning that years, even decades, go by in the blink of an eye. Living in the afterlife renders time irrelevant. It’s one of the earthly concerns that go away after you die. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo holds many shots, lingering on an object or person for a long time, inviting the viewer to contemplate what the director has in mind.

 Usually when an actor wins an Oscar, he or she has a hard time following that particular performance. A Ghost Story is Affleck’s first movie after his win for Manchester by the Sea earlier this year. I’m not going to argue whether it’s a better or worse performance. I can’t. It’s so different from anything he’s ever done that it defies comparison. He wears a sheet for most of the movie (like a kid wearing a Halloween costume) and he’s mute so he has to convey emotion in ways other than facial expressions or dialogue. His performance here is driven by gestures, movement and even the way he stands. Mara is also very good as the grieving widow. She doesn’t get a lot of dialogue either. Certain actions, like silently scarfing down a whole pie in one sitting, say more than words. Whether it’s walking through the house in a daze or pulling away from a date that tries to kiss her, we know where she’s at emotionally.

 There is so much that I LOVE about A Ghost Story and want to tell you but that would be doing you a huge disservice. This is one of those times when it’s best to go in cold, not knowing too much about the movie and what happens in it. And once you’re there, it’s best just to sit back and take it all in. Let it wash around in your mind afterwards. Contemplate its meaning. See it a second time. I’m planning on a second viewing sometime soon. It’s definitely original. It’s about a lot of things- love, loss, time, grief, regret, yearning and, in one scene, man’s attempt at immortality through art. It’s minimalist but more than substantial. It’s haunting and beautiful. It’s a total must-see for those hungering for food for thought.

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