A Ghost Story, written and directed by David Lowery, feels almost like a test – a test of the audience’s patience, a test of their commitment, and a test of their willingness to accept what they are watching. From my time with the film, quite a few of the people in the audience struggled to overcome those tests (which is understandable). This is a film where you need to be willing to let the film tell its story how it wants too. It doesn’t play by the rules in any way and that can make for an experience that feels difficult to interact with. But what exactly is it about this film that might make it so challenging for audiences? Well, let’s explore that and more through this review.
It’s at this point I usually like to give a quick synopsis of the film, but… with A Ghost Story that’s easier said than done. The film explores love, loss and what it means to be human. How does it do that? Well, through the eyes of a sheet covered ghost – played by Casey Affleck – who returns to the home he once lived in and watches as the life of the person he loved – played by Rooney Mare – goes on without him.
At no point does this film follow the conventional rules of storytelling in the format of film. Long drawn out scenes of seemingly insignificant occurrences. Long stretches of no dialogue where you simply watch the day-to-day life of someone dealing with the loss of someone they loved. And then unexpected turns in the narrative that then completely alter the focus of the film and open up an entirely new way of thinking about everything.
I never knew what to expect from this film. I never really had a full handle on what it was trying to do. But I was completely fascinated by it. Well actually, to be honest, I was at first actually wondering if it was all an elaborate way for writer, director, David Lowery to test how far he could push the audience’s patience, before they simply gave up. But I soon began to see a glimpse of what he was trying to do, and once I had that glimpse, I had to stick with it and see if my assumptions were correct.
A Ghost Story isn’t a film that will ever have you fully comfortable. Now I don’t mean that the film is scary or unsettling, rather I mean that it is so odd and so different in how it approaches its subject, that I could never properly settle in and feel I knew exactly what I was consuming. For me, that made it a really interesting experience, as usually films don’t do that. Usually after a while they reveal their intent and you can ease yourself down into your seat a little and begin to understand the full scope of the film. With A Ghost Story that moment only came once the credits rolled and I could begin to try to digest everything I had watched.
But the one thing in the film that did make sense to me, and I found to be truly honest in its portrayal, was the films handling of grief once a loved one had passed on. Unlike other films, we, the audience, simply exist there in the room, watching as Rooney Mara, known as ‘M’ tries to deal with the loss of ‘C’ which is Casey Affleck’s character. There aren’t moments where she sits around with a close friend and hashes it out. We don’t see her struggling to concentrate at work and then having a meltdown in the break room. No, instead we sit there silently in the kitchen as she simply tries to process and deal with what life now is, while at the same time there is a sheet covered ghost standing in the corner (which isn’t weird at all).
There are no grand monologues, or emotionally fuelled dialogue scenes where Mara’s character lets it all out. It’s just the moments where someone sits alone at home and is truly honest with how they feel. And it is all the more potent because the person she is grieving over is standing there in the room, unable to communicate or interact, all they can do is watch.
It’s really difficult to talk about this film in a coherent way, because it is just so different. What I want to stress in this review (in which I feel I am struggling to properly talk about this film) is that if you go see A Ghost Story, you have to give it a chance. You have to be willing to open up to the film and let it tell its story in the way it wants to. Now I know that won’t be an easy thing to do, as even I at one or two points considered shutting down and being done with the film (there was a particular scene where a character was musing about existence and legacy and it all felt like one big jerk off motion to be honest) but you need to stick with this film.
Why do you need to stick with this film? Well, because in the end – for me – it was worth it. It all came together into something that I felt wonderfully communicated its message. It struck a chord with me and it left me thinking not only about the film, but my own personal experiences, which is something I’m sure writer, director, David Lowery was hoping to achieve.
A Ghost Story is in no way a film for everyone (it would be boring if it was) but I do believe it is a film people should give a chance – from beginning to end. I’m glad I gave it a chance, and trust me, at the beginning of the film, I did not think I would be saying that.
And so, I am going to recommend A Ghost Story. I slowly became transfixed by this film and was fascinated to see what it would offer next, and it didn’t disappoint. That won’t be the case for everyone, but there’s still something to this film that is worth experiencing.
As you can imagine, I’d love to hear what you thought of this film, so please leave your opinions on the comments section down below. Also, feel free to follow my blog directly and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as it helps to grow awareness for my blog. I’ll leave you by saying thank you for taking the time to read my review and that I hope you have a swell day.