Every now and again a film will come along that blows you away. Written and directed by David Lowery, A Ghost Story is a unique and unconventional haunted tale of legacy, love, loss and existence. It is a film that provides an almost profound meditation on time and manages to provoke a line of thought that is almost overwhelming if you start to consider how insignificant each of our existences are in the vast enormity of time. Yet regardless of how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, each of us carries on existing, living and loving.
With an incredibly sparse narrative, Lowery’s film very much tells a visual story that follows a recently deceased man (Casey Affleck), who was prematurely taken from this Earth only to return as a white sheeted ghost. After sitting up in the morgue, he slowly returns back to his former home in an attempt to reconnect with his grieving wife (Rooney Mara). However, he finds that he has become stuck in time in a spectral state where he is only able to passively observe. As he stands sentry for days that soon turn into weeks and years, he watches the life he knew and wife he loved slip away in front of him. It is from here that the ghost must embark on a cosmic journey through space and time in order to fulfill the essential human longing for meaning and a reconnection.
With filming taking place no less than three days after wrapping on Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, Lowery returned back to this small independent passion project which he financed entirely himself and shot almost in secret. This gave him the freedom to make the film he wanted without limitations and expectations. Of course, it also helps when you have a talented bunch of friends to help you out. Lowry managed to reunite both Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara from his debut film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and trusted composer Daniel Hart with whom he has collaborated on all of his films.
Very much a personal project for director Lowery and inspired by an argument that he had with his own wife where he didn’t want to move out of their old house. He felt it was full of the echoes of their past memories together which prompted him to ask ‘What if we just stayed?’ It is this theme of each of us maintaining a deep and emotional connection to people, places and things amidst an existential crisis that is at the heart of A Ghost Story.
Lowery’s ability to extract a performance from under the sheet is incredible especially if you consider that it has been done without physicality, facial expressions or language. By removing these elements it has helped capture the very essence of the ghost’s desolation.
It is important to stress that this is not a typical scary ghost story. Told almost entirely from the ghost’s point of view, he is effectively being haunted by the living, remaining anchored and unable to move on. What you get is a film that provokes a feeling and deeper contemplation on life and afterlife. It asks its audience to fill in the gaps in the narrative with their own thoughts and feelings, prompting viewers to reflect on their own existence and the space that they populate on this earth. It shares some similarities with Terrence Malick’s visual style and cosmic elements seen in The Tree of Life, albeit slightly less ambiguous and with more of a structural arc to this story. This of course means that this film will not be for everyone especially if you prefer your films more narratively driven.
Despite the film’s almost infinite sprawling themes, it deploys a limited restrictive framing by using a square 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which keeps it intimate and observant. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo has created such a gloriously beautiful aesthetic which helps capture the loneliness and simplicity of the ghost perfectly. Expertly complimenting the visuals is Daniel Hart’s patient and evocative score. The music plays such a huge roll in transforming the film, giving it its rhythm and atmosphere.
A Ghost Story is a completely mesmerising and compelling film. Its portrayal of life after death is uniquely inventive, poetically delicate and profoundly moving. David Lowery’s film is surreal, bold and enriching. Encompassing such vast themes, it provokes deep contemplation and reflection on time and our own existence. This is a very special film.