A Ghost Story is the newest collaborative output from writer and director, David Lowery, and A24, whose releases in recent years have been nothing short of fantastic. With such an ingenious concept and the input of a production company who champion individuality and uninhibited creativity, this particular release had been on my radar for months. Featuring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as a young married couple whose time together is cut short by the sudden death of the latter, the film explores the weighty themes of love, grief, time and legacy in the most unusual of ways. These themes coalesce beautifully through Lowery’s utilisation of the film’s slow-burning editing techniques and simplistic but carefully-crafted visual style, culminating in a powerful, meditative piece that invites its viewers to contemplate the transience of our individual lives and the traces of our existence left behind within our material surroundings.
Director David Lowery noted in an interview regarding the film that he seeks to explore the relationship between the domestic and the cosmic in his filmmaking, and I believe it is this keen interest in the unrelenting movement of time which underpins the gravity of A Ghost Story and makes it such a hauntingly ethereal and spiritual experience. Following the death of her partner, Rooney Mara’s ‘M’ is depicted wrangling with her grief, whilst a crude purgatorial incarnation of Casey Affleck’s ‘C’ watches over her day by day, finding himself stuck in the time and space he once occupied as a human. Affleck’s ghostly presence acts as a vessel through which we spectate on Mara moving through her grief and progressing with her life, before eventually moving out of their once idyllic suburban Texas home and being replaced with a string of other inhabitants. Where the film goes from here, I will not divulge for fear of spoiling its quiet magnetism.
The feelings I was left with as the credits rolled were split between an odd, poignant sadness and a sense of awakening and rejuvenation; the pained, lonely and unrelenting purgatory existence of the titular ghost meant the overall viewing was tinged by the realisation of the insignificance of our lives and personal experiences in the great sweeping backdrop of time. Equally, it made me want to live and be joyful and experience as much as possible in the tiny glimmer of time I spend on the earth.
The film’s central ideas were presented with the same heady visual flair and cosmic gravitas that can be expected from 21st century Terrence Malick, as seen in The Tree of Life and The New World. Like the aforementioned titles, Lowery utilises the film’s southern American gothic setting to inject an added sense of weight and history to the film’s cyclical structure. Director of Photography, Andrew Droz Palermo, truly takes advantage of this additional layer of poignancy through his carefully considered cinematography, often lingering on slowly-unfolding, meticulously-framed wide shots which position the viewer as a voyeuristic presence within the space the ghost inhabits, much like the spectral figure itself which acts an ever-present symbol of the magnitude of time. Even details that could be perceived as empty aesthetic touches like the 1.33:1 aspect ratio serve their purpose, in this case playing with time even further by grounding the film with an undistinct feeling of nostalgia.
With such an introspective tone and inventive take on its premise, Daniel Hart’s mournful, haunting score elevates A Ghost Story to even greater heights, acting as the final jigsaw piece in communicating the yearning, melancholy feeling shrouding viewers as they watch generations pass by. Indeed, music allows the film to utterly transcend time and allow audiences to become immersed in the idea of connecting oneself with spaces, people and places across different realms, particularly as M herself uses music shared between herself and C to reconnect with her lost partner. Moments such as these which are scattered plentifully throughout the film amongst its more reflective moments make it sheer joy to watch, despite how painful it might be.
I noted when reading about the film how many people appeared to question the length of particular scenes, but I feel that these slow, beguiling editing tendencies only further enable the quiet ebb and flow of the film’s various chapters. The lengthier scenes also notably shed light on the weight of grief as an insidious entity that fades but never truly disappears, as well as creating the illusion of a series of moments that culminate in a person’s entire lifetime. Every detail was evidently crafted and laboured over in order to vibrantly paint a picture of this overall idea of the passing of time, what happens when we as individuals disappear from the earth’s timeline, and the impression that people leave on each other, the planet, and indeed on culture. A Ghost Story is a quietly beautiful, intelligent and original piece of filmmaking, and one that I am already desperate to revisit.