A Ghost Story is the latest film from the dynamic A24 Studios. If you’re a regular reader, you may know that A24 has become one of my favorite studios (pretty much second only to Marvel). They consistently put out thoughtful, ingenious films with ultra-talented casts and crews and are almost singlehandedly reinventing the medium. Just some of the spectacular films they have put out that you didn’t see are Room, Moonlight, Swiss Army Man, and Ex Machina. Coming from director and writer David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon), A Ghost Story does nothing to reverse my opinion of A24’s efforts and contributions to film and, in fact, only takes great leaps to reinforce it.
On the surface, A Ghost Story relates a very simple narrative. A man is killed in a car wreck (Casey Affleck) and returns home as a ghost in an effort to reunite with the wife he left behind (Rooney Mara). That’s the gist. But this film is so much more than that, underneath. So very much more.
And this is one of those movies. It’s one of those movies that is exceedingly beautiful and poignant and artistic and meaningful and inventive and perfectly presented, yet will be hated and scoffed at by many members of the general audience. They’ll accuse it of being “boring”. They’ll say that “nothing happens”. And they’ll be undeniably, unequivocally, and may I say ignorantly wrong.
If one watches the film with their brain shut off, then those accusations will appear to be true. There is very little dialogue in the film and even less consequential dialogue. As far as external actions are concerned, A Ghost Story takes the less-is-more approach. There are multiple extended sequences in which no one speaks. These sequences may last as long as twenty minutes, or maybe even longer (I didn’t exactly time them). It’s up to the viewer to activate their own personal attention spans and choose to engage with what largely amounts to a high-concept silent film.
But if one does engage and opts to pay attention during the film (the least one can do, really), it’s not difficult to see that there is actually a plethora of activity occurring throughout the film. There is a scene with Rooney Mara and a pie that will become legendary over time. She says not a single word but she tells a captivating story without necessitating speech. Mara is fantastic throughout the entire film, communicating to the audience through her facial expressions, body language, and the way she carries herself, in general.
In fact, A Ghost Story exemplifies the very idea which I have often preached should be the mantra of every filmmaker: show, don’t tell. Film is a visual medium and, while dialogue is naturally an incredibly important aspect of film, when it is used in place of showing events, a fatal disconnect is born. A Ghost Story shows everything and tells nothing. That includes the ending, which I imagine will also anger some of the viewers who are less inclined to ponder things. Don’t be afraid to think, folks. It might lead to something positive!
There is one scene of significant dialogue that puts the film into perspective and adds an additional layer to the underpinnings of the narrative. It’s a thought-provoking monologue delivered brilliantly by actor Will Oldham and significantly widens the scope of the film and defines the ghost’s journey.
And the film is certainly a journey. A Ghost Story is not in any way attempting to be a horror film. There are a couple of especially brief moments of suspense but that is not what this movie is aiming for. A Ghost Story is a mindful and introspective study of loss and coping with said loss. It’s a cautionary tale that warns the audience to attack life, rather than wait for life to happen on its own. It addresses the consequences of a single-minded focus. It’s a kaleidoscopic analysis of life that is told through a story of stagnating death. Affleck and Mara step far outside of their comfort zones and give wondrous, throwback performances that convey their thoughts, hopes, and desires as eloquently, efficiently, and effectively as any long-winded soliloquy ever could.
A Ghost Story represents everything that makes film the greatest form of entertainment. It’s a shame that most people won’t see it and that many who do won’t appreciate it. If Wonder Woman hadn’t been so moving, inspirational, and downright timely, A Ghost Story would be my favorite film of 2017, so far. A24 has done it again. And though I didn’t care for Lowery’s previous directorial outing in Pete’s Dragon, he’s made a believer out of me with this film, which is as bold and risky as it is mind-bending and touching.
I urge you to seek out A Ghost Story. And I implore you, as you watch it, to not focus on what’s going to happen and to instead be in the moment and concentrate on what is currently happening. Let Rooney Mara lean on you as she mourns. Share the grief with her. Help her through it. Lead Casey Affleck to a new sense of purpose. When he looks to you for guidance, point him in the proper direction. Participate in this film. If the film is approached willingly by an audience that is open-minded to something totally unique and refreshing, a little bit jarring, and surprisingly challenging, then A Ghost Story is every bit as much of a full-bore theatrical experience as the latest 3D IMAX blockbuster. Reward this film, A24, David Lowery, Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Will Oldham, and everyone else involved in the making of this film. Tell them we love intelligent, heartfelt filmmaking. And ask them nicely, using your money, to make more.
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