A Ghost Story(2017)
dir. David Lowery
written by: David Lowery
starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
When David Lowery’s A Ghost Story debuted at Sundance shortly after seeing Pete’s Dragon, I imagined what the writer-director of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was trying to do with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck after their nominated/winning carrier progressions. A hole-in-sheet ghost strolls through a house he shared with his wife before suddenly dying. There was also talk of an intense pie eating scene. I needed to know nothing else; I was sold. The delivered product, properly vetted as a poetic exploration of time and memory, provided a swirling, shapeless costume captured by the enormity of time.
The faster progression of time with aging is real. The perception of each year decreases in the totality of life, and post physical formation, all time that was not with you continues with a greater immensity than preceded you. The formation (Casey Affleck, entirely covered for the bulk of his role) possesses the home without his wife, played by Rooney Mara in a quietly intense role, for far longer than they were together. Memories of her direct the ghost’s actions through future tenants–a Mexican family, philosophical hipsters–through its destruction and replacement. The images that drew it back to the home are what keep it trapped, and the reminiscence holds emotional, volatile force in the afterlife. The melancholy, both from the ghost and widow, is intimate and gripping.
Fracturing minimalistic square framing, the director’s vision seemed problematic, even to him according to his testimony at Seattle International Film Festival screening, his reported largest screening to date. The aesthetic worked though; a snapshot into a moment of time that pairs well with Arrival. The small moments in history–an argument, simple discussions–capture the ghost in the moments in time that spur a jump through the future. His perception of time expands once Mara’s character begins her grieving; grieving cannot feasibly last forever. A soon-to-be over-analyzed scene of Mara devouring a pie sinks into the woman’s recent loss. Viewing from the outside, the deceased sees his wife engorging herself on pastry to distract from the aching pain. Personal and unrelenting, Mara spreads the power in this scene through her entire performance. Acute facial notes maintain realism necessary to keep the somewhat absurd structure from breaching an excessive realm.
The many recollections experienced by the ghost drip through time within a centralized location, experiencing the pain and rebirth that cycles in human experience. Lowery’s timing and connection vibrates onscreen with his familiar cast. He provides a unique expression of the value and danger of memory. The past can drag down the present, taking away from the experience of the moment. There’s nothing that can be done beside reflection and dwelling, and that makes monsters of us all. The acceptance of limitations can be a hard sell, but eventually it allows for progression.