Written and directed by David Lowery, “A Ghost Story” is a quiet and small film about the enormity of existence, love, loss, and grief. I originally sought out the film mostly because it was another unique offering from studio A24, but also because of the simplicity of the idea. Lowery cleverly uses a childlike representation of the ethereal limbo as a story device- a figure draped in a simple white bedsheet- to examine some of the most universal themes of what it is to be human. This is a film that is almost certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, mostly because it is almost devoid of dialogue and it slowly meanders with a melancholy tone for most of the runtime (which comes to 87 minutes). The story opens with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck living their lives as most do, working on various projects and staying close to each other in proximity and in love. However to have a story about a ghost, someone has to die.
That someone is Casey Affleck. After his life ends abruptly in an auto accident just yards from his house we follow him in his ghostly form for the rest of the film. He passively watches his widowed wife grieve and attempts to console her to no avail. However, time in the afterlife soon becomes.. slippery and large pockets of time begin to wash over him. The Ghost stays in what was once his home long after his wife leaves. A character trait, we later learn, that is leftover from his fleshy form as he lingers and watches, listens, and sometimes even haunts new tenants over the years. There is a monologue during a party in which one man describes the inconsequential efforts of humanity to remain after we have left this mortal plane. Among a house of young people drinking and dancing one vocal participant voices this notion. It’s a small moment that is the heart of the movie’s message-“We build our legacy piece by piece,” he says, “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.” It’s a moment that stays with you as the ghostly figure transcends what must be decades upon decades as the plot of land that was once the site of his small house becomes the ground floor of a skyscraper’s construction.
Shot in square 1.33 Academy ratio frame with rounded edges the film gains a level of intimacy that few films can compete with. Shooting this way paired with the emotional clarity of always placing the ghost in the frame as he wistfully looks on crafts a sense both haunting and hypnotic. Though admittedly I don’t mean to place this film upon a pedestal of importance through this review, it’s simply a small film with a $100,000 budget and a few big names actors meshed together to create a satisfying note on the poetic nature of time’s infinity and how we all cope with that in our differing ways. If you have the time and the patience for a film like this, I suggest giving it a shot. Though if you know what kind of viewer you are and can’t sit through Rooney Mara cry/eat an entire pie for a couple minutes, you might not enjoy this one.
Final Score: Two ghosts and a monologue