You can tell whether or not A Ghost Story will work for you based on your first look at the actual ghost of the picture. Is it a representation of something as ineffable and difficult to capture as the spirit as something so small and ridiculous that it becomes inextricably human? Or is it Casey Affleck under a sheet?
If you’re still with me (and for a film that features Sheet Affleck and a whole lot of unbroken shots of people staring at things, I don’t necessarily blame you) or even if you’re not, A Ghost Story is perhaps one of the most incredible works of cinematic artistry this year.
More poetics than prose, director David Lowery (who filmed this in just over two weeks, functionally in secret) has crafted an intimate epic, a story of love across death and how small we are against the span of time. A work that can only be done through the unique powers of filmmaking and a work that will haunt long after it ends.
I don’t want to signal too much about this film. There are things you need to uncover for yourself. You simply need to know that C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) are a married couple living in a house in Dallas. One morning, C dies in a car crash outside his home. He wakes up in the morgue and returns to haunt his home and the people left behind.
It’s a tale of sickeningly raw grief, the slight sense of unreality that comes with having to move on and drawing out every single moment to the breaking point, giving no break away from what you’re seeing. It’s a remarkable intimacy, the constant feeling of seeing something that you’re not supposed to see, those moments that we talk about but never want to show.
Mara excels at this, letting herself go to a very difficult place, putting so much of herself out there and being constantly under the camera’s eye for every microexpression she can give. She gives a phenomenal performance, grief and acceptance mixing into something cathartic and understanding. There’s also a five-minute sequence that I kind of can’t believe someone agreed to and that there’s no way to explain how it’s as brilliant as it is.
But you can’t speak performance in this film without talking about its most perpetual presence and scene partner…Casey Affleck underneath a sheet. That sheet removes C from humanity, really sells that outsider feeling. Just as Affleck removes basically every actor trick possible. No eyes, no dialogue, and most of his movements hidden. It’s all about the spacing and the timing and his large motions and his gait. Yet he manages to convey so much. It’s a performance that competes with Manchester by the Sea for career best.
But all of this is at the control of Lowery. A Ghost Story is an excessively small film, but that’s how it gets it power. It pulls in so so close to its subjects, Lowery lets his camera linger just past the point of comfort to make his audience squirm as they recognize what’s going on. It’s bold and ambitious filmmaking, seeing exactly what you can extract from every bit of setting, from the shadows of the night and from the faces of recognition.
It’s a beautiful, haunting, incredible story. It’s hard to praise it enough. Yet up until now, I’ve been discussing the film’s grief-stricken first half, the easiest to pull from what’s already out there. The film becomes so much more. I’m gonna ask you that if you are at all interested in this film, stop here, check my grade, and go see it. If you want to know more, click on to page 2.