To quote Taking Back Sunday:
“What’s it feel like to be a ghost?”
That’s the question that is asked in the hauntingly beautiful film, A Ghost Story.
How to describe the plot of A Ghost Story? It’s not going to be easy because A Ghost Story is a film that defies easy description or categorization. It’s power comes less from the specifics of the story and more from the mood that it creates. A Ghost Story makes you think and it makes you feel and, to a certain extent, you’re just going to have to take my word on that. This is one of those film that, to truly understand, you simply must see.
Casey Affleck plays C and Rooney Mara plays M. They live in a small house, near Dallas. They’re like any couple, really. Sometimes, they appear to be in love. Sometimes, they appear to be on the verge of breaking up and never seeing each other again. Sometimes, they are happy. Sometimes, they are sad. The film starts with an almost random series of scenes, showing their life together.
Suddenly, we see a smashed car sitting in front of the house.
Just as abruptly, we’re in the hallway outside a sterile hospital room. We can see that, inside the room, M is staring down at a body on a slab. The body has been covered with a sheet. M leaves. Slowly, the sheet-covered body sits up. We watch as the sheet-covered ghost walks down the hallways of the hospital. Briefly, it pauses to look at what appears to be a portal to … somewhere else. The ghost does not enter the portal and the portal closes.
We spend the rest of the movie following that sheet-covered ghost as he wanders through our world. No one living sees it and the ghost never says a word. He watches as M mourns over his passing. Time passes. People enter and leave the house. Life goes on but the ghost is stuck forever where he is, powerless to do anything other than occasionally break a dish, play a piano, or open a book. Time passes. The ghost sees the future, the past, and the present. Why is the ghost still there? Does the ghost know? Is the ghost just waiting for someone who it has forgotten?
If I’m making A Ghost Story sound like a sad movie … well, it is. There are moments of humor, largely coming from the fact that the ghost is literally a sheet with some eye holes. For the most part, though, this film is a somber meditation on life, death, and what makes it all worth the trouble. It’s a film that makes you wonder whether you would have entered that portal or if you too would have returned to your old house so that you silently watch the world go on without you.
From the stillness of the morgue to the view of a futuristic cityscape that the ghost can see but probably no longer appreciate, director David Lowery gives some truly beautiful and haunting images while telling this story. (It’s not surprising to learn that the Dallas-based Lowery previously worked on Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color.) A Ghost Story came out earlier this year and really didn’t get the attention that it deserved. It’s a thought-provoking film and definitely one of the best of the year.