****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE. A warning : This is an art house film, if your tastes run to the more conventional, you will probably hate this movie. You've been forewarned!
There is an old story, I think it is about legendary producer Robert Evans, that recounts a Hollywood big wig wanting to re-make Moby Dick, but this time...from the whale's perspective. I kept thinking of that as I watched writer/director David Lowery's mesmerizing A Ghost Story. Don't be deceived, A Ghost Story is not a horror film, although it has moments of creepiness, rather it is a ghost story, but this time...from the ghost's perspective.
The film is not your typical ghost story in that it is more a meditation on the nature of time, place, existence and grief. As someone who has suffered the relentless slings and arrows that accompany the unexpected death of a loved one, I can say that A Ghost Story acts as an intriguing philosophical salve that cools the hot wounds of being forced to contemplate the fragility of life and our own impending mortality. This theme must be in the forefront of the collective unconscious at the moment because other great artists besides director David Lowery have recently made films that touch upon this subject. Both Olivier Assayas with his fantastic Personal Shopper and the enigmatic Terence Malick with Song to Song have delved into the depths of our existential despair and discovered dramatic treasure, and so it is with Lowery and A Ghost Story.
A Ghost Story stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, both of whom give impeccable performances. Following up on her stellar work in Terence Malick's Song to Song, Mara does masterful work as "M" opposite Affleck's "C". Mara is blessed with the ability to draw viewers in to her character's private world while at the same time appearing to be impenetrable to the those around her.
Rooney Mara is an actress at the top of her game and may be the best actress on the planet at the moment. She is an utter joy to behold in this film, where her master of craft is on full display. She doesn't have much dialogue, but she fills every moment with a specificity and attention to detail that render her work riveting, bordering on the hypnotic. She fills the screen and her character with such clear intentions that there are no wasted movements or moments. Most actors struggle when they don't have words to say, but Mara has proven herself to be an exquisite artist who never succumbs to the alluring temptation to creatively meander.
There is one moment in particular from Mara that resonated with me. The moment occurs right before the "pie scene" that has gotten so much attention on the internet. In the lead up to that scene, Mara throws something away, and then she takes a short beat and actually looks into the garbage can. In the hands of a lesser talent, that moment never would have occurred, but with Rooney Mara, she made a distinct choice and it filled a rather mundane moment with intrigue and artistry. You can't help but watch the scene and wonder…what is in the garbage can? What is she seeing and what does it mean to her? And when coupled with the context of the narrative at that moment, it makes for quite compelling cinema.
Casey Affleck also gives a strong performance, which is remarkable considering the circumstances he is working under. Affleck, coming off his Best Actor Oscar, looks to be an actor who is willing to take chances and commit himself fully to even the most challenging of artistic visions. He, like Mara, never wastes a single moment on screen, and fills his silence with a powerful and tangible humanity that can be both chilling and heartening, but never fails to captivate.
As for the film itself, director David Lowery proves himself to be a unique filmmaker. He is certainly influenced by his fellow Texan, Terence Malick, but that influence never falls into creative sycophancy. Lowery is not the virtuoso talent of Malick, but like Malick he embraces silence and stillness in his films, and philosophical topics in his stories. The other thing that Lowery and Malick share is an artistic courage and comfort outside the mainstream.
What I liked the most about A Ghost Story is maybe what other people will like the least about it, namely that it has a deliberate pace and uses long, slow takes in order to let the drama and the characters unfold in a sometimes painful, but always interesting, way. It is rare to find directors with the confidence to let the camera keep rolling for sometimes excruciatingly long scenes, but Lowery successfully coaxes viewers into the story with this technique. It is also difficult to find actors who are comfortable with that style of directing, but Lowery succeeded in the casting room by getting two phenomenal artists to sign on to play the parts.
There is one scene in the film which may be the best scene I have witnessed this entire year. It is a monologue, and in a film with very little dialogue it stands out not only for its verbosity but for its intellectual eloquence. This monologue is at once an existential wail into the abyss and also a vivid clarion call to life. The monologue also sums up the philosophical underpinnings of the film, which are fascinating to say the least and will resonate with any human who has ever contemplated their own existence.
In conclusion, A Ghost Story is a wonderfully original piece of work from director David Lowery, that boasts sublime and meticulous performances from Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. A Ghost Story is in execution and intention an art house film through and through, so if your tastes tend toward the more mainstream, you will not only dislike this movie, but loathe it. But if you are an adventuresome cinephile or someone who has carried the cross of intense personal grief, or both, A Ghost Story is well worth your time and hard earned money, and I highly recommend you make the effort to see it in the theatre.