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A GHOST STORY Travels Through Time and One Space (Sundance Review)

A GHOST STORY Travels Through Time and One Space (Sundance Review)

There’s nothing quite like David Lowery‘s A Ghost Story in cinema today.

Walking out of the theater after seeing it is a bit like slowly waking up from a dream and having to question your own subconscious. It’s a nagging, sentimental journey about dedication, the mutability of our relationships, and what God must feel like watching the world change. It also tests your patience and makes you want to eat pie with Rooney Mara.

She stars in the film as M, an adventurous young woman married to a homebody musician, C (Casey Affleck). They’re intimate and tense, on the cusp of moving out of their creaky suburban bungalow and wondering where late-night noises are coming from.

The opening places a premium on their close-clinging affection, with M relaying a story about leaving notes in all the houses she ever moved out of as a kid. She speaks while enmeshed with C on the couch in a singular tangle of human limbs, he kisses her temples, hand on her chest, they appear as one being.

Then, he dies in a car crash. For the rest of the film, Affleck appears as a ghost (think impressive child’s costume; not hologram Jedi), forever waiting with eternity on his shoulders. He becomes a spectator of M’s mourning, but he’s also tied to the house, so it’s not long until she leaves (a note in the wall for good measure) and other inhabitants fill the space over years of use.

Like a soul-based Inception, A Ghost Story toys with our sense of time with its scope, patience-testing long shots, and playful transitions that cast the ghost as a constant in a shifting space. The first to fully emerge keeps the ghost static in the foreground as three different M’s in different outfits emerge from the bedroom, cross the living room, and leave the house. From that point on, it’s not unusual for the ghost to turn around to find a completely different family in his house.

The camerawork shifts perspectives from the ghost’s to the house’s stream of inhabitants, crafting moments where you forget the ghost is even in the background of the shot, like a piece of furniture, despite once being a breathing being we cared about.

Among its many themes — loyalty, eternity, loss — A Ghost Story seeks to recast and question the ties that bind us. The clearest examples come in gaining a rounded view of C and M’s relationship, portrayed at first almost as a product of a faulty, rosy memory. There are fights and incompatibilities, but there’s also music and comfort and love — all anchored by the sense that the ghost is hanging around the house (and trying to get the note in the wall) solely for the wife that lived. His desire for her allows him to lash out on the physical world, flashing light bulbs to white hot brightness or, once a new family moves in, throwing their dishes against the wall and scaring them into moving.

Your cherished loved ones may be someone else’s poltergeist.


The film beautifully captures the feeling of a quiet presence orbited by the vibrancy of life. The loneliness on display is crippling in its ubiquity. To see the full spectrum of life surround you, to lose your sense of time, to be almost completely unable to participate.

It also falls victim to the same criticism that all films with post-modern flairs are susceptible to. Toned down later in A Ghost Story, the first act is replete with watch-checking long takes. They aren’t torturous, Bela Tarr level, but they still intrinsically raise the question of whether a shot of an empty house should be 47, 117, or 437-seconds long. The line between hypnotic and sleep-inducing.

They also create an alienation effect, making you firmly aware that you’re sitting with 150 people in a dark room watching Rooney Mara stress-eat a pie for five minutes. Pure spectator, losing your sense of time, completely unable to participate.

The patience A Ghost Story demands is rewarded with fantastically inventive storytelling, buoyed largely by the magnetic draw the ghost develops as he stands sentinel, the one constant in a millennium-burning world, sweetly comical under his sheet. After its mourning and haunting periods, the movie picks up its pace, imagining all the things a single patch of land might become over its lifetime, creatively engaging the ghost with a multitude of new histories in search of an emotional conclusion satisfying enough for an immortal specter.

The path toward and the culmination of the story itself are both thrilling, simultaneously melancholy and delightful and surprising.

There is simply nothing like A Ghost Story out there. It’s a beast that no description can fully capture, and its ingenuity, humanity, and vision deserve to be celebrated.

4 out of 5 scared sheetless burritos


Images: A24

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