Usually ghost stories are about people being haunted by ghosts. Director David Lowery has instead crafted a film about a ghost being haunted by people.
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, whose characters are only given the names C and M in the credits, play a young couple who, in spite of some disagreements, are deeply in love. One of their disagreements is whether or not they will move out of their house. C dies suddenly and becomes a ghost. In fact, Affleck spends much of the movie literally draped in a sheet with eye holes cut in it. He chooses to stay in the world to return to the house, where he witnesses the grief of his widow—a grief that Mara portrays with mute intensity.
C inhabits the house long after M moves on, watching people and time pass. It seems as though he’s waiting for something to happen, but we’re not sure what.
This movie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The camera lingers long, and scenes with no dialogue or even much action go on for long minutes. Like the ghost, we are left waiting and wondering. Lowery creates an atmosphere heavy with grief and loneliness, but he also injects a sense of wonder—wonder at life, home, and the strong connections we build with each other.
The house hosts a number of different inhabitants, and certain things show up in all of them. People share meals, wash dishes—everyday, common acts that bind people together.
The film is presented with a square aspect ratio, adding the retro feel of the pictures I used to take with my 70s-era Kodak Instamatic. It also gives the film a smaller space, a little more contained, the way the house must feel to the ghost who cannot leave it.
At one point the ghost witnesses a house party with a philosophizing hipster who carries on in a poor-man’s version of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes about how everything we strive for, including all we do to make a lasting mark on the world, will come to an end; nothing will last; everyone will die. Yet C, in his ghost form, lingers on.
He lingers in my mind, too, after watching the movie. I’m still not sure what to make of it. But if you enjoy interesting experiments with story and visuals, you might find that A Ghost Storyhaunts you too. Rated R for language. (A24)