Friday, August 11, 2017
A Ghost Story
A GHOST STORY (David Lowery, 2017)
In the brief time the couple credited as C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) in A GHOST STORY are together, we see how close they can be and the disagreement they have over whether or not to stay in their current home. He feels attached to the place where they share their lives; to her the house holds no special importance.
The difference of opinions about the space continues when they are parted. C is killed in an automobile accident. When he becomes conscious of being on a new plane of existence, he declines to move on. Instead, donning the white sheet that covered him in the morgue, C is drawn back to the house, where he watches M but is invisible to her. What he recalls about his time before being a ghost is unclear, but something keeps him there. M grieves but in time moves on from him and the house. C remains even as the occupants change, rooted to a location where he feels an unexplained loss and unresolved anger.
C can make things go bump in the night and lash out in the ways other stories have conditioned us to think of ghosts, but writer-director David Lowery has other interests than eliciting jumps from an apparition that goes, “Boo!” For one, A GHOST STORY portrays the experience of grief for the deceased. The metaphysics at play are vague, but C appears to have a choice to advance to a different level or stay on this earthly one. The decision to remain haunts him and others like him. These ghosts are like dogs left at home without any way of knowing when or if their owners will return. They are waiting for that happy moment when they are reunited with someone, except they experience time much differently and have little to no memory of why they feel holes at their cores. The ghost’s grief is not specific but a general emptiness with no obvious way of filling it.
Lowery also studies the grief for a place. Time transforms everywhere, so even if a spot has little turnover in residents or a lot through the years, the space is not what it once was. Just as the physical qualities change, the relationship with the location adapts. Mental associations are as much a part of the structure as the beams. C’s link in life and afterlife to the house are all of the emotional ties and memories that it contains, yet what he struggles to realize is that those don’t vanish even with the absence of the four walls around him. In contrast to the film’s minimal dialogue, Lowery spells this out effectively, although somewhat heavy-handedly, with a monologue delivered by a prognosticator played by Will Oldham.
A GHOST STORY unfolds in the style of European and Asian slow cinema so it can better convey the different experience of time and put our years into perspective regarding the universe’s age. Little tends to happen, but when C flits through time in a less comprehensive version of THE TREE OF LIFE’s birth of the universe section, Lowery powerfully evokes the impermanence of what we tend to assume as eternal.
Rather than generating restlessness, the stillness and relative silence in A GHOST STORY create room for meditation and appreciating the visual detail. C’s ghost sheet is gorgeously wrinkled with impenetrably dark eyeholes, more like a haute couture version of a death shroud than a homemade costume from the Charlie Brown Halloween special. The score by Daniel Hart and key song “I Get Overwhelmed” by his band Dark Rooms express the wistfulness in time’s redefining of things throughout life. A GHOST STORY aches for what no longer is but reminds that truly the most valuable things transcend.