A Ghost Story written and directed by David Lowery (A24, Sailor Bear, Zero Trans Fats Productions, Ideaman Studios, R, 92 min)
Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.
I Will Follow You into the Dark
Reflections on the afterlife can leave unsettling inferences unsaid. If heaven is more than just a place on earth, then what will we do? With whom will we spend time? How does a consciousness known only in the linear encounter and operate in the infinite?
In my younger years, I always feared the afterlife my faith tradition composed. The notion of sitting in God’s glory and worshipping forever seems utterly dull. But, compared to eternal damnation, I guess a boring existence is an upgrade?
The ghost stories of cultural lore ponder a separate approach to existence after death. These narratives imagine souls in need of resolution before resting in piece. The ghost haunts an area important to him or her because something must be made right. We fear ghosts because we don’t understand them, because the supernatural creates extraordinary experiences, because someday we might also find ourselves searching for resolution after death. But these stories quickly refute our fears. They reinforce these ghosts harbor no malintent.
Even still, the idea of a ghost story feels haunting, scary, paranormal. Here, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story works tirelessly to present the supernatural in a sympathetic light.
The film begins with many lingering shots, a husband (Casey Affleck) and wife (Mara Rooney) live in an old home. She itches to leave, to find a new habitat. He can’t find the inertia to exit, the weight of place connected to him on a spiritual level, inspiring his musical compositions.
When a car accident ends his life, the husband resuscitates as a ghost, strikingly shot with just a bedsheet hanging over Affleck. Instead of passing on to the great unknown, the husband lingers. He returns to the shared house to observe his grieving wife. Faithfully and silently, the husband observes as his wife passes through the stages of grief.
When his wife begins to put her life back together, the husband becomes more concerned, his energy flickering lights in the house and pushing books off the shelf. Eventually, the wife gets back on her feet, lists the house, and moves out. Her last action to write a note, presumably for her long-lost husband, left in a crack between door and frame.
From here, we see the husband more and more isolated as tenants come and go in this house. The more time passes, the more isolated the husband, the more his hauntings emerge in the classically understood depictions: flashing lights, slammed cupboards, plates breaking.
Removing the Linear
Only when we discover the eternality of time for this ghost moving in a circular motion do we understand the solitude of the husband’s decision. To stay behind and be with his grieving wife, he has condemned himself to a forever existence in between realms.
But time moves in both directions, and the film’s final act raises questions about determinism and how to live well when your afterlife is so unsettled. Would the eternal nature of one’s spirit haunt the temporal body, even force it toward indifference when stasis might cause the very issues that lead to a life shuffled off its mortal coil in the first place?
With minimal dialogue, A Ghost Story explores the complicated feelings of love and loss, even more questioning the elements of ourselves we might leave behind when we go. Is it enough to exist in the memory of one person after you go? Or do we all need to leave a legacy as large as Beethoven’s 9th symphony? A Ghost Story flourishes most in the open spaces, where shots linger, and actors let the silence breathe. Given the lack of dialogue, A Ghost Story packs quite the emotional punch. A Ghost Story isn’t for those who desire clear plotting or extensive action, but for viewers interested in feeling something, A Ghost Story is your jam.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5