Hey you. Reader. Are you feeling particularly fulfilled or stable today? Good! You should! As David Lowery’s A Ghost Story reminds us, the infinite extrapolation of cosmic uncertainty renders each and every one of us rationally insignificant. No matter what we do, humanity will eventually hit an apocalyptic brick wall – all achievements, designs and structure forgotten. So chin up! Try as you might, but we’re all going to die someday along with our legacy. Find comfort in your tiny fleck of an existence as time runs out, like one particle of sand in a draining hourglass.
Isn’t it nice to have our universal egotism checked every now and then? Your answer to this question will dictate either appreciation or disdain shown towards A Ghost Story.
Lowery’s reflective exploration stars Casey Affleck as a new-to-form ghost, represented by the white sheet draped over Affleck’s body. His wife – played by Rooney Mara – is left to grieve and move on. Affleck returns home for a happy reunion, but is denied any such pleasantry…because he’s a ghost. This sends the shambling “apparition” on a life-affirming quest as he inhabits the same house/plot of land far beyond (and before) Mara’s occupation. Families come and go, eras end, history is forgotten – but not to Affleck. He remains an invisible constant as time speeds forwards, pushes backwards and loops the most sobering of loop-de-loops.
In terms of storytelling, A Ghost Story is painstakingly honest, inquisitive and emotionally naked. Lowery rips his heart out and serves it on a bed of roses. Each scene presses deeper into an endless pool of existential fear that defines the human condition, but sunshine and rainbows are never offered. This is one man’s grappling with our very existence and how we can find relief in our minuscule size. The term “passion project” is often thrown around with varying connotations, but to call A Ghost Story anything but would be foolish. “Passion” pulsates as Lowery wrestles with faceless anxieties who never present themselves. Distressingly. Real. F$*king out-of-body.
Given the above description, audience polarization is expected. On one side, those comforted by a notion that no singular being supersedes some greater end. On the other, those left shivering cold by Lowery’s nihilistic kiss. For me, there was no escape from blanketed layers of uncompromising worthlessness – presumably the same provocation that led Lowery down his path of enlightenment. My own sheet weighing me down, each cinematic jump forward leading me to slouch a bit more in my seat.
Highlight moments are both brilliant and crushing. Mara scoffing down homemade pie until expelling demons in the form of undigested food chunks. Will Oldham’s rambling conspiracy about how life will be engulfed by black nothingness (quite brilliant, really). Kesha’s cameo as another sheet ghost who waits an eternity just to forget who she’s even waiting for. It’s all so…affirming – in a not-so-cheery way. But, given their purpose, each actor successfully channels Lowery’s own energy and pensive confidence. Whether you want to go there or not, the likes of a heartbroken widow or blissfully numb party-girl will take you there.
But is it fair to dock Lowery for my own inability to process life’s biggest questions? A Ghost Story ponders and analyzes with with artistic liberties. One minute Affleck-ghost is haunting a foreign family (floating milk glass), the next he’s watching the corpse of a dead pioneer child decay over time. Like, FULL decomposition. Precise cinematography focuses on the living characters who walk around Affleck’s bedsheet, as his movements chill in their slightness (a twisted head, frozen pose). Everything is so meticulous – Affleck’s figure just standing in the background, statuesque for haunting effect – but then utterly bonkers once subtitled conversations begin between “ghosts.” (*Grabs megaphone*) THIS WILL NOT BE FOR EVERYONE. That doesn’t mean Lowery’s cataclysmic composition lacks visionary regard, or fails to impress. Music, aesthetics, and worry make for both bare-bones grieving and a complex dissection of timelessness. Just try and hold on.
A Ghost Story is nothing less than a journey through time, space and everything in between. David Lowery cannot answer questions for you, but nevertheless paves a path he once traveled. A blueprint to the unknown, assembled from constellations beyond our comprehension. Some may find themselves while others refuse such a challenge. Both are valid, wholly understandable coping mechanisms. We cannot ignore the illumination Lowery has bottled, then covered in a sheet. Because this is just that “Casey Affleck under a blanket” movie, right? Wrong, wrong and wrong again.
A Ghost Story leads you down a path that allows for personal reflection, which will either sooth lost souls or scare them away.