There’s a certain irony in the fact that films about life and death generally walk on the safe side. As a subject that has been explored time and time again, originality can be difficult to come by; while A Ghost Story undoubtedly plays on themes already investigated in cinematic history, it does so with a freshness that makes it a very worthwhile watch.
A Ghost Story is hopeful, heartbreaking, and often a test of endurance.
When a fatal car crash kills one of the two central characters in the film’s opening minutes, Casey Affleck’s character, “C”, is left to wander the house he once loved, to watch the woman he still loves. Here, we see the film’s main question: what happens when those we leave behind move on? And what happens if we don’t?
Director Daniel Lowery doesn’t shy away from the reality of grief. Extended, languishing shots are the signature of this film, forcing the audience to contemplate and reflect actively. One scene in particular (which has found notoriety among certain critics), in which Rooney Mara’s character “M” sits on her kitchen floor eating a pie for four or five minutes, will set apart those that will and those that won’t appreciate A Ghost Story. Lowery himself described it as a litmus test of sorts, and with a total film length of only 92 minutes, the importance of these drawn-out shots is amplified further.
The choice to use the cartoonish stereotype of a bed sheet with eye holes to represent the ghost is brilliant. It can be comedic, terrifying, and achingly sad, all within the space of a few minutes. Watching a sheet-clad figure slowly walk across a misty field is an image difficult to shake. Furthermore, a string-heavy score by Daniel Hart adds to A Ghost Story’s otherworldly nature.
For lack of a better word, A Ghost Story was haunting. It was an emotional watch, something that so many films along the theme of life and death fail to achieve without feeling like a cliche. In the same breath, I can completely understand that this film will not be for everyone – judging by the sounds coming from other audience members at the screening. I’d say the film falls under the banner of experimental cinema. It’s one I can definitely see being added to university film studies courses.
All in all, I think I liked A Ghost Story. At the very least, it’s not a film I’ll be forgetting in any hurry. Mara gives a beautiful performance, as she always does. Affleck… well… he was under a sheet for most of the movie, but it was a sheet that made me feel a lot of feelings so… job well done (I think?)
A Ghost Story will be in cinemas on Thursday July 27.