One of the most beautiful and somber films to come out of the 2010s is A Ghost Story written and directed by David Lowery. Premiering at Sunday’s Fil. Festival and distributed by the much-loved A24, A Ghost Story follows a young married couple C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) and the aftermath of the former’s untimely death at the start of the film. What makes this film such a standout is its simplicity and minimalist approach with limited locations and characters. The film is primarily filmed in their family home and showcases the figurative and literal destruction of the home as M’s life falls apart without her husband. The home is not a home. The screenplay is written by Lowery and his connection and intricacy in bringing his two protagonists to life with minimal interaction is no easy feat but he achieves this. It is a film that moved me and has provided much inspirational imagery and directorial approach that I feel sad that the film has almost been swept under the carpet.
Affleck and Mara both bring their A game to this film and give performances that are among the best in their careers. When C passes away he is reincarnated as a ghost donning a simple white sheet with holes cut out for eyes. We never see his eyes nor what is under the sheet yet Affleck’s presence and character is felt despite not speaking or providing much action. C is a musician and we hear glimpses of his song throughout bringing an unexpected electro and modern sound to the film. The music is what brings the film to its respective time period as the minimalism evokes a timeless quality. Mara is absolutely gut-wrenching in her turn as the grieving wife, M. We see a strong woman who is eventually broken down mentally and physically by the absence around her. We see a few encounters from friends and even a prospective date but the absence of C is too much for her to bear. There is only one scene when M is actually outside of the house and that is when she is identifying her husband’s body. In some respects, she is defined by her relationship to her husband but it could be argued that her struggle is actually a want and inability to move on and continue with her life. She slowly begins to recognise that C isn’t coming back no matter how much she longs for it.
It goes without saying that the highlight scene is the pie scene. This scene is infamous among film fans alike thanks to its raw one take approach to seeing a grieving wife literally eating a chocolate pie for five minutes until she makes herself sick. The scene itself is so simple yet so complex. Mara’s emotional spectrum is on display here as she eats and eats, delving into more and more despair as she longs to feel better following the funeral. The feeling of hopelessness and depression really shoot through as well as upset and loneliness. There are no words in this scene yet it says so much. It’s as if M is hoping her husband will return and stop her from eating herself to sickness but he doesn’t. In fact, no one comes and she is left alone to grieve and process what has happened. I think this scene alone warranted awards recognition but I think the rawness of the characters was probably too alien to the mainstream audience as it does make for uncomfortable and upsetting viewing.
Another scene that causes debates among its viewers is the monologue provided by a party goer, credited as the Prognosticator (Will Oldham) in the house next door. C observes as the Prognosticator talks endlessly about classical music and the Big Crunch which is a theory that claims that the universe is constantly expanding and eventually it will snap like a rubber band and collapse in on itself into a speck as if nothing existed at all. C’s frustration and anger throughout the scene causes him to make the lights flicker as he searches for meaning beyond the life he lived. The speech itself is a bit longwinded, lasting five and a half minutes. Its uneasiness and pretentious nature makes it seem longer because there is no one debating with him. It very much feels as if the Prognosticator is talking out to the audience or even the universe. It is important to note that the film has minimal dialogue so this speech is the true verbal standout the audience is provided with and I think it’s a skillful tip of the scale by Lowery who wants to create that feeling of uncertainty.
The structure of the film is unconventional following a repeat of the time that C and M lived in the house while C observes under his sheet and follows the next family to move in and the subsequent destruction of the home. It feels as though C and M’s memories together are trapped in that endless loop as the universe expands. Just as the Prognosticator claims the works of Beethoven will forever live in human memory, so will the time C and M spent in their house. When C finally reads a note M left and disappears it is sad but also brings closure to that loop and gives him a chance to leave the house just as M did before.
A Ghost Story is not your typical film exploring loss and grief but its impact and power comes from Lowery’s raw approach. Despite its seemingly effortless aesthetic, the films screenplay and character observation pushes through a complexity that transcends its simple storyline. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you watch it.
What did you think of A Ghost Story? Let me know what you think in the comments below!