Film Review: A Ghost Story

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A Ghost Story
Director: David Lowery

A24
In Theaters: 07.28

One draping sheet, two holes for eyes: It’s a simple rendering of a ghost that avoids the inconceivability of the paranormal, a charming cartoon departure from phantoms and their more loaded connotations—death, grief, fear. That’s what director David Lowery channels in his spellbinding A Ghost Story with the archetypal C (Casey Affleck), who, after his early death, comes back to his small home as a ghost—the sheet-with-holes-as-eyes kind—and watches as his widow, M (Rooney Mara), grieves and grapples alone. Lowery and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermolt set a hushed stage for the film with muted colors, symmetry, an almost square aspect ratio and beguilingly slow, if not entirely still, shots—sometimes paired with bursts of deep sound or song for gripping operatic and thematic effect (like a couple of callbacks to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9). All add to Lowery’s delicate and patient touch, well suiting the ruminative yet visceral mood piece. Nearly all of the film’s feeling corporealizes from what is left unsaid, unshown and uncertain—speculative.

Time unfolds from C’s perspective, at sometimes jolting, sometimes comatose paces. M moves out, and C watches her go. Left behind, C exchanges (bleak) subtitled pleasantries with the ghost next door; he becomes angry or sad and smashes objects or heats up light bulbs so that they break; he observes the house’s new tenants, which include a young family and later, some guy at a party who goes off on a long, uninterrupted rant about the futility of life, creativity and legacy. From there, the ingenious film takes even more of a supernatural/science fiction turn, as C more or less time travels, seeing his home get bulldozed, taking in a futuristic city skyline and observing the pioneer family that generations ago first stumbled upon the property land. All throughout these time skips and loops, A Ghost Story persists in depicting or engaging with us a deeply literary sense of longing and loss.

Lowery masterfully immerses us into the tugging, heartbreaking, somehow pure interchange between the approachability of his concept/gimmick—the sheeted specter—and the enormity, the unknowability, of the themes he explores: life, existence. Haunting, piercing and dripping with sensation, A Ghost Story is an arresting, cosmic feat. –Kathy Rong Zhou