A Ghost Story (R) ★★★★

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story
Image credit: Andrew Droz Palermo

A deeply affecting meditation on life, death, grief, time, existence — and letting go.

So as you can probably discern from the statement above, A Ghost Story goes deep. Even though it tells a simple tale, has only two main characters and features several scenes that are mostly silent, it is more moving, more memorable, and just so much BETTER in every way possible than 95% of the films I see each year. By the end I felt like both my brain and my emotions had been put through the wringer. But I personally believe that’s what the best films should do—make you think deeply, feel deeply, and leave the theater a changed person in some way. A Ghost Story achieves these things because of the brilliant vision and execution of its writer and director, David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon), who does a lot with a little.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara—who worked together in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints as well—play C and M, a couple who live simply in a ranch-style house. We get just a taste of their relationship before C unexpectedly dies. He dies . . . but he’s not gone. He rises up from the table in the morgue, still covered by a white sheet, and (in an especially gorgeous shot, accompanied by a wonderful, violin-heavy score by Daniel Hart) makes his way back home. He watches M go through the stages of grief, but he can’t do anything except stand there in his sheet and observe. Mostly.

Rooney Mara is extraordinary in this film. In a much-buzzed-about, love-it-or-hate-it scene, Lowery follows M at a particularly low point. In a single take that lasts over five minutes, M stress-eats an entire pie left for her by a well-meaning neighbor. I’ll admit that a few minutes in I thought, “Wait — are we seriously going to have to watch her eat this entire thing?” Little did I know the ordeal wasn’t even halfway over. It was tough to endure but hypnotizing at the same time, and in retrospect I believe Lowery was trying to make the audience feel exactly like the sheeted C: powerless to do anything but watch.

Everything that transpires while C stays by M’s side as she grieves and eventually moves forward is well done, but not exactly surprising. It’s what happens after M moves on that shook me to my core. I did not see any of it coming, and therefore I am certainly not going to spoil it here. But I can say that Lowery is a master of stark shots that will burn into your memory. Just thinking about C standing there motionless in that sheet against certain backdrops still gives me the chills. And the fact that Lowery found such a compelling way to present his extraordinarily complex thoughts on what happens to us after we die, how we fit in to the expanse of time, and the significance of having closure, is award-worthy in my book. I must also mention a perfect, haunting song that plays a small role in C and M’s lives: “I Get Overwhelmed” by Dark Rooms (of which the aforementioned Daniel Hart is a member). I sought it out immediately, and it continues to conjure up specific scenes so much that I am moved to tears. Another unique choice by Lowery that is unexpectedly powerful.

A Ghost Story is the best film I have seen in 2017 so far. It will be a tough one to beat.


The Bottom-Line? This film is remarkable. See it.


Cast: Rooney Mara (M), Casey Affleck (C)

Credits: Written and directed by David Lowery

Studio: A24

Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes


Erika Olson © July 13, 2017