Casey Affleck is bedsheet ghost in this hazy poetic exploration of the meaning of life
A film tackling the meaning of life with a cheap Halloween ghost costume doesn’t seem like the best idea ever. Actually, it’s the worst idea I have ever heard. But David Lowery has managed to make a full feature-length film that is never cheesy, funny, or idiotic. A Ghost Story feels very much like a backstage view of the most important film – our life.
A musician (Casey Affleck) dies from a car accident leaving his wife (Rooney Mara) alone. After his death, he becomes a ghost capable of watching over his loved one. However, when she eventually moves on to better things, he stays behind and starts watching the others that move into his home. As he studies the people surrounding him, he realizes the truth about what it means to be human.
I’m entirely aware that for some of you, the bedsheet ghost will be too silly. But Lowery’s direction never makes it feel as such. He’s able to make the viewer embody the ghost, and as he moves through his journey, we’re able to share his discoveries. And it’s with that emotional journey that Lowery transcends the Halloween costume. He uses imageries, music, and cinematic techniques to subtlety make you realize the reality of your own life. However, it’s never shocking nor abrupt. It’s the kind of slow-building realization that sneaks up on you in the end.
Lowery is able to achieve such subtle emotional moments with his sharp shots. Shot on film, it has that 1970s hazy aesthetic which makes for some beautiful cinematography. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo’s shots radiate of intimate moments and ooze emotions. The whole movie is filmed using a square aspect ratio, and it helps connect with the audience as they are forced to see what’s on screen. The aspect ratio doesn’t give many chances to show wide shots, but it’s the closer shots that make A Ghost Story such an emotional and intimate journey.
Apart from a monologue in the middle of the film, Lowery is able to achieve these emotional heights with minimal dialogue. His quiet atmosphere puts his audience in an audacious place. However, with Lowery’s edgy direction and impeccable execution, he knows exactly where his audience is and where they need to be. His awareness and with this underlying confidence, A Ghost Story is able to thrive.
It goes without saying that A Ghost Story is a different film. I mean the bedsheet ghost gives it away, but at first glance, it would seem to work better as a Saturday Night Live sketch than a dramatic film. It’s a surprise that Lowery is able to all make it work and embrace its unconventionality. The concept it tackles, the visual elements its chooses, and the aspect ratio are all daring that are all done to perfection. If it were to have gone all wrong, A Ghost Story would have been the laughing stock of the decade. Instead, Lowery will go down as one of the most daring filmmakers.
Even when beating the odd, A Ghost Story can’t help but still feel jarring at first. It’s during the first act that Lowery gives us plenty of jarring elements without easing us into this world. The bedsheet ghost mixed with CGI and long static shots are elements that don’t give us any sense of the direction of the film. However, Lowery is still able to convey emotional moments even if we’re not completely eased in. It’s those moments that help ground the whole film.
Thankfully, coming into its second act, the film manages to overcome its harsh elements. When it continues to introduce emotional layers, it all seems to fall into place. It’s in this place that A Ghost Story succeeds to immense heights. It’s these type of high-concept film that Hollywood continues to be afraid of making. As a supernatural-drama film, it’s daring, beautiful, powerful, unconventional, and melancholic never scared of alienating its viewers. Lowery has created an artistic film here to tell us an important message. It may have ghosts and other supernatural elements, but A Ghost Story is a very real film about the very real world.
A Ghost Story came out in theatres on July 21.