Review: A Ghost Story is haunting meditation on life, love and death, but also deeply silly

Casey Affleck as the ghost of C. in A Ghost Story. Photo: Picturehouse Entertainment/Bret Curry/A24

Casey Affleck as the ghost of C. in A Ghost Story. Photo: Picturehouse Entertainment/Bret Curry/A24 - Credit: Picturehouse Entertainment/Bret Curry/A24

Written and directed by David Lowery, the film is an oddity, a haunting drama of love after death that drapes Oscar winner Casey Affleck in a flowing white sheet as the titular spectre for the majority of the running time.

Rooney Mara as M and Casey Affleck as C. in A Ghost Story. Photo: Picturehouse Entertainment/Bret Cu

Rooney Mara as M and Casey Affleck as C. in A Ghost Story. Photo: Picturehouse Entertainment/Bret Curry/A24 - Credit: Picturehouse Entertainment/Bret Curry/A24

A Ghost Story (12A)

****

This ghostly tale is a meditation on memory, spirituality and our place in the cosmos, yet at the end I couldn't shake the suspicion that maybe it was a Coldplay song made celluloid, big themes resting on empty lyrics.

This ghost story is the one where Casey Affleck spends most of its running length in a white sheet with black holes for eyes. He's a musician, a composer of Chris Martin-ish ditty, who dies in the first 15 minutes and returns home to watch over wife Mara.

Casey Affleck (without his sheet) as C. in A Ghost Story. Photo: Picturehouse Entertainment/Bret Cur

Casey Affleck (without his sheet) as C. in A Ghost Story. Photo: Picturehouse Entertainment/Bret Curry/A24 - Credit: Picturehouse Entertainment/Bret Curry/A24


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I think there is something very honourable about director David Lowery using such a hokey old image, because it gives audiences an easy way out - 'look at those gullible fools watching a film about a man in a sheet.' And if you choose to leave then you can go with dignity, because it is a deeply silly film, but comfortably so.

Lowery is aiming very high here, for something that is deep and profound, but is doing so with a very light touch and moments of humour.

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It isn't as precious about its artistic ambitions as his breakthrough film Aint Dem Bodies Saints (a title which should always be said in a Jimmy Durante voice and a jazz hand flourish) was. If you stay with it you'll be rewarded with a housebound Wings of Desire. Lowery's sheeted apparitions fulfill the roles the angels performed in Wim Wenders' film.

The things Lowery gets right, he gets very right. He does lovely things with natural light, focusing on sunlight reflecting on walls. There are marvellous moments and it comes close, so very close to the wonder, but then a misjudged scene will throw you right out of the film. There are two in particular: the Rooney Mara-eats-a-pie scene; and the Will Oldham-explains-the-futility-of-existence scene.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtz1OXBuU6o

The pie eating scene comes right after the death. Still in shock Mara returns home, finds a pie that has been baked for her by a sympathetic neighbour and consumes it all in one long unbroken take. And on the one hand this makes for a perfect expression of her loss, but on the other, it's minutes of you sitting watching her eat a pie and feeling that there is something fabricated and a little too neat about it; that the artistry and grasping for profundity is a little too blatant here.

The problem with the second of these, which comes late on over beer at a party, is that it is a failure of nerve. Everything come to a halt before the finale to make sure everybody is keeping up. It isn't necessarily that he explains the meaning of the film, but it definitely defines the context of any post-screening what-was-that-about discussion. This sudden burst of verbosity in a film that largely prefers quiet, is very jarring, and not very well written.

There is very little dialogue but the lines that are there have a tendency to blab away its secrets. At the start of the film Mara says that as a child, whenever her family moved home she'd write notes and fold them up really small and hide them, so that if she ever went back there'd be a piece of her there waiting. And you hear that and you already know a little too much about what is coming.

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