A Ghost Story (2017)

  • Time: 87 min
  • Genre: Drama | Fantasy | Romance
  • Director: David Lowery
  • Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham


In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.

One review

  • How to describe A Ghost Story, the film that reunites writer-director David Lowery with his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. It’s simple but bold, befuddling and bewitching, a meditation, a tone poem, both all and none of the above. It can make for demanding watching, but it will infinitely reward those who allow themselves to be enveloped in the slow sways of its dreamtime rhythm.

    The film revolves around a young married couple, credited as C (Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara). One night, they are awakened by a heavy bang on the piano, though they can’t figure out the cause of the noise. They return to bed, they kiss, they embrace, they shroud themselves in their intimacy – this minutes-long scene is just one of the series of long interludes of relative stillness and inaction that comprise the film. Lowery’s camera lingers on the couple far longer than it should and yet, by not cutting away or fading to black as most films would, a seemingly ordinary act becomes soulful and stirring. This sequence of domestic bliss is followed with one of tragedy as the camera slowly pans from the outside of their house over to the street where a collision has occurred and C is dead, his head slumped on the steering wheel.

    His death is only the beginning for, after M says her goodbyes at the hospital, the camera remains with C’s sheet-covered corpse until he sits up and, still clad in the white sheet, which now has holes cut out for eyes, wanders through the hospital corridors, out across a green landscape, and arrives back home. M cannot see or sense him, though he does have the power to control electricity or move objects if his emotions reach boiling point. Most of the time, however, all he can do is watch as M grieves for him, most memorably as she devours an entire pie. This may be the point that viewers may take leave of the film (if they haven’t already done so), but the moment is mesmerising not only because Mara is clearly eating that pie during the minutes-long take, but also because there’s something so relatable and heartbreaking about a woman trying to fill the emptiness that consumes her and a man who can’t offer the comfort she so obviously needs.

    A Ghost Story is one sustained gambit, whether it be Lowery’s decision to keep Affleck covered in the sheet for most of the film (much like Lenny Abrahamson’s perverse choice to have Michael Fassbender wear a papier-mâché mask for nearly the entirety of Frank), or the swelling orchestral chords that sound so dramatic against such prosaic moments, or the nearly square aspect ratio, or even the childlike simplicity of his central image. Everything builds to something almost indescribably resonant and lyrical. It has its stumbles (most notably, an arguably superfluously verbose third act) and it’s definitely not for everyone, but A Ghost Story is a poignant and powerful reflection on love, loss and how, if you think about it, we are always surrounded by ghosts.

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