A Ghost Story is one of those movies. It’s beautiful and haunting, but not in the “boo” sense of the word. It’s also challenging and perplexing and not exactly enjoyable to watch. In that sense, it’s a bit like reading The Grapes of Wrath, the process is a bit taxing, but in retrospect, we can appreciate the experience.
Here’s the thing. Whatever else it is, A Ghost Story is not a horror film. It’s a mediation on life and loss and love, and in its most aspirational moments, the enormity of time. Get that straight before you head to the theater, because if you head in looking for Casey Affleck’s titular ghost to pull some Stephen King worthy poltergeist-ing, you’re going to be very disappointed indeed. On the other hand, if you’re up for a near silent rumination on human nature and have a
tolerance fondness for high art cinema, stick around.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck reunite with director David Lowery for A Ghost Story. But where their last collaboration, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, was a sweeping romantic outlaw drama, this effort is a bare bones, lyrical thought experiment. We get about as much plot as a standard Terrance Malick film affords us (and about as many beautiful shots too) and no answers. What we do get is time, time to lose ourselves in the slowly unfolding on screen events, or in our own thoughts as Casey Affleck’s specter observes the world passing him by.
If it could be said that this film holds any scares, it’s those brief starts that strike when we remember our ghost is there in the background. He’s often so silent and still that it’s alarming to come back around to the realization that he’s been there all the while, watching his former love power through an entire pie in her grief, or pawing at one bit of wall, desperate to see within, or even gazing out a window. Curiously, the fact that Affleck’s face is concealed most of the movie serves as a bit on an advantage here — he’s a talented chap with an expressive face, but when a story leaves so much time for the mind to wander, it’s better to lessen the temptation to dwell on a problematic figure like Affleck and attempt to divine what Lowery wants us to walk away with. I’m not sure I managed either.
I have no doubt that A Ghost Story will prove deeply resonant for some viewers. I wasn’t one of them. But I loved the cinematography nonetheless. And you know what, I’m there for the subtitled exchanges between ghosts and Rooney Mara getting after that pie. That’s probably a basic analysis, but I’ve been accused of worse, I’m sure.