Film review: A Ghost Story
“… the reason for living [is] to get ready to stay dead a long time.” says William Faulkner, in his novel As I Lay Dying. This may perhaps be what David Lowery is driving at with his latest feature. A poem to human connection and legacy A Ghost Story powerfully evokes the notion that the sense of what one leaves behind is, not in who remembers you or for how long but, in the thing(s) they do to those you love.
A man (Casey Affleck) and a woman (Rooney Mara) live in a plain, ranch-style residence, somewhere. We do not know their names. He is a musician, although it is not clear what she does. One day, while canoodling during an intimate moment, she relates how when she was little she would hide a scribbled-note in some crevice each time before the family moved away.
The next thing we know, he is dead, slumped over a wheel, in an accident. After she has replaced the cover over his head and departed the morgue, the spirit of the deceased man rises, draped in the full-length sheet with two eye-holes. Wading, he returns dragging the white cloth about him like a wedding-dress to the house where he shall haunt from this point forward.
Held together without extraneous words or scenes in which hard-cuts are strategic as line-breaks, the movie uses time like meter and rhyme to dramatise the poetic narrative. Both long and short, time, here, moves forth and back and starts over, slipping then and stalling now. In one scene, the woman overcome by grief sits on the kitchen floor to eat a pie a friend has dropped off. She takes a mouthful. Then, another. Another. And again, whittling down the huge dish, for what seems like forever. Yet, other decades, indeed tens of decades unspool in seconds when the ghost travels into the future and the past to relive an unborn history or visit an obsolete fate.
Clothed in the same inscrutable linen for nearly the entire film Affleck astonishes with the range of emotions he manages to convey through neither expression nor speech. As the spread droops or holds we can almost discern the helplessness and anger, jealousy and affection breathing within the hollowness.
For all that has been said about Lowery’s startlingly low-tech choices in his production, sounds from Johnny Marshall’s design seem sometimes to come from outside the screen, right next to us, a creepy feeling in a story far more profound than creepy.
Inching ever closer to his lover’s outstretched hands while she lies listening to his last composition, in apparent desire for (re)connection, the ghost makes one reflect on why we do what we do when piece-by-piece we build on our work. And having to die twice to find rest from what his significant-other too has left (albeit concealed), he goes on to show us the reason for living could well be to leave behind what matters to whom that matter to you.