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.


  • 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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  • Remember when Casey Affleck appeared in 2002’s Gerry? I do. I enjoyed that film despite the fact that certain scenes went on forever. A Ghost Story (my latest review) also stars Affleck. It too has extending wide shots and parlays over ninety minutes that could’ve just equaled an hour.

    Now did I like “Story” as much as Gerry? Not really. Despite a decent musical score and a wholly original template, A Ghost Story felt a little pretentious and a little too symbolic for my taste. With its camera peering in on every frame, some pseudo creepiness, and plenty of uncomfortable silences, A Ghost Story has slight shades of Terrence Malick and at the same time, gives off the whiff of being akin to an independent version of 1990’s Ghost (starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore).

    Filmed mostly at a house outside of Irving, Texas (said house announces itself as pretty much the star of the movie), “Story” ain’t conventionally scary but it’s indeed about ghostly figures. There are a couple of them. They are dressed in white capes with eye holes cut out.

    Casey Affleck plays an anonymous character. He’s a husband who dies in a car accident and comes out of death as Casper for a new generation. He tries in afterlife fashion to connect with his grieving wife. Then, he lies dormant as his other half moves to a different town (Affleck’s sweetie is yet another anonymous persona played by Bedford, NY native, Rooney Mara).

    In conclusion, “Story” is directed with soared ambition by David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints). Lowery has tailored intentions but fails to give his audience an emotional connection to his troupers (we barely get to know anything about them except that they binge-eat homemade pies and then throw up). He also robs his flick of having a sustained level of entertainment value.

    Bottom line: A Ghost Story might make you fast forward your DVD player. It perturbs giving you every painstaking sequence from an extensive distance. Call it tricked “storytelling” that’s announced as overthought, spoon-fed art. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

    Check out other reviews on my blog: http://www.viewsonfilm.com

  • “We build our legacy piece by piece and maybe the whole world will remember you or maybe just a couple of people, but you do what you can to make sure you’re still around after you’re gone.”

    I gained more insight of the possibilities of life after death from a ghost in a sheet than I have in thirty-one years from any textbook. The complexities of the afterlife may be more simple than we’ve imagined and may not be what we expect.

    When I was growing up in the ’90s, I lived in a mansion in New Orleans that was built in 1900. It reeked of history in every crack and creak it possessed, and I always felt an unexplainable presence. Although I never saw her, three vital people in my life saw a little girl in that house, whom they thought was me, until she myseriously vanished.

    We always labeled her as the ghost, a spirit of the past who possibily died in the house. But what if this “ghost” wasn’t a stranger? What if this girl was actually me, but from a different time or alternative dimension?

    It’s a thought that never crossed my mind, but it’s a theory that A Ghost Story wants us to explore.

    C (Casey Affleck) is a struggling musician living with his wife M (Rooney Mara) in a small suburban house in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. After a car accident takes C’s life, he returns as a white-sheeted ghost to his home to reconnect with his wife only to discover the enormity of existence and life after death.

    An artistic exploration of love and loss, I warn you that this movie is a slow-burner. With extensively long, exaggerated takes within the first 30 minutes, I was concerned that I might snooze through this one, but my advice is to give it time and have patience. The payoff is worth your endurance of the film’s intentionally lethargic first act.

    Director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) was so aware that this creative, experimental film may fall flat that he filmed it entirely in secret. Casey Affleck wearing a white bedsheet drifting from scene to scene may sound a little ludacris, but it managed to flesh out perfectly. As The Guardian explains, “The film ranks low for scares – it’s more likely to keep you up at night fretting about the meaning of life than to make you terrified of a spirit under the bed.”

    Lowery was basically having an extistential crisis about the fate of humanity and writing/directing A Ghost Story was his therapy.

    “The trigger, he says, was a Pulitzer-prize winning article by Kathryn Schulz in the New Yorker about an earthquake that scientists believe will take out a sizeable chunk of northwest America. ‘It freaked me out,’ he says. ‘I started piling on other fears: the political situation in the US and all over the world. I was not feeling optimistic about the future of mankind. I felt the world was on its way to ending. The film became my way of dealing with those issues.’” via The Guardian

    There’s going to be a lot of people who watch this utterly disappointed in what they saw, because it won’t be what they expected. Maybe that’s why I loved it, but I’m afraid the majority of audiences won’t appreciate the experimental nature of the film and what it says about the afterlife. I felt more emotion and more depth from a 21st century Casper than I have from any other film this year.

    When we moved out of my childhood home in 2003, none of us experienced anything supernatural again. Whether or not there is some truth behind A Ghost Story is obviously unknown, but I can tell you there’s something out there.

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