Loneliness Found In ‘A Ghost Story’ (Movie Review)

Writing about A Ghost Story feels similar to deciphering the recent films from Terrence Malick. That may already sound like a nice comparison for this movie from writer/director David Lowery, but I’m getting more at the nature of these movies. How do you critique a mood? Sure, plenty of actors and filmmakers were involved in committing this story to the cinematic medium, but a careful analysis of a film so deliberate in its execution only allows for so much analysis when little time has passed after one screening. Were A Ghost Story to have a significant impact, it could be discussed more in years to come, with a better handle on what else was under the covers of this film. For now, I’ll just have to go into what I’ve initially gotten out of this atypical haunted house film.

It may seem like the film is choosing to stray outside the bounds of “traditional” storytelling, but everything is rather simple. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara¸ reuniting after Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, star as an unnamed couple (identified as C and M) living in a small suburban house. Affleck’s character dies early in the film and awakens as a ghost covered in a white sheet, with two eye holes. As a ghost, C only moves through his home, watching as M grieves. Time passes by, and things change, including the occupants of the home and even the nature of the house itself. Still, C remains.

Labeling a film pretentious tends to feel like an empty criticism, as it seems like an attempt to make a dig without adding any substantial discussion to why one feels that way. Keeping that in mind, it’s hard for me not to see a segment of the audience who end up looking at A Ghost Story and labeling it as a pretentious piece of work. They wouldn’t be wrong. While Lowery is working at making something soulful and poetic on a budget, it does amount to watching a man wearing a big sheet over himself, as if he were competing to have the worst Halloween costume.

A Ghost Story does tread the line of feeling more like an expensive art project, given the space afforded to the actors and minimalist nature of what’s taking place. Even with the technical design (A Ghost Story is shot in the Academy ratio and with rounded edges, no less), there is a preciousness to the presentation of the film. However, were one to sync up with the rhythm of the piece, there’s appreciation to be had with how the film delivers on its narrative.

As mentioned, this is a movie that places focus on the grieving process, in addition to putting emphasis on how connections affect us and being a meditation on time. Time becomes an especially interesting aspect of the film. Earlier scenes move slowly, allowing us to take in the situations presented. As the film moves on, spans of time pass in the blink of an eye. C’s state has dimension to it, and a level of frustration leaves an impact that reflects how the film progresses.

Seeing how C takes in new developments provides character to this being and adds to how the film fits into a genre and subverts it. What if we could see a haunted house movie from the perspective of the one who haunts? That’s fodder for a horror film that could suitably work for a crowd looking for new types of thrills. For A Ghost Story, it’s a heavy drama about how the loss of life affects the area surrounding that individual.

Judging the performers is an interesting challenge, but it’s safe to say everyone involved adds what is required. Mara provides a mostly silent performance, especially when in grief mode. It leads to an already notorious sequence that has her eating an entire pie in an unbroken shot, which speaks to just how concentrated the film is on letting emotions sink in visually. Affleck is trickier, as he’s under a sheet for almost the entire movie. Still, there’s a familiarity here to his Oscar-winning role in Manchester by the Sea, given how he’s playing a literal ghost of his former self, following a tragedy. The role may be more experimental than anything, but one can’t say he doesn’t add a presence.

I don’t know what emotional connections Lowery had to this story, but it seems like he found a way to turn sentiments into something creative enough to get so many people involved. Self-funded and shot in a small amount of time, this is the kind of cinematic investment that ideally has outsiders wanting to participate as well. It’s easy to write off the premise as silly, and the film even has one or two moments to help break up the grim mood a bit, letting the viewer know it’s somewhat aware of itself. However, A Ghost Story succeeds in visually showing emotional states, even if I liked what it was about more than how it went about handling it. Then again, as time passes, perhaps the “how” will evolve.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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