David Lowery’s A Ghost Story shows us a role reversal of grief from the perspective of the dead in a hybrid of metaphysical caricature, proving to be a fine and fresh addition to the world of auteur cinema.
More often than not, movies about grief only show the counter-reactions of the physical world of humans. The other side has always remained a mystery; partially, the reason why grieving exists is because of the impossible task of trusting the unknown — letting go of our loved ones to that God-knows-what space. A Ghost Story provides us a step closer of unraveling the unknown in showing us the existential realm of life after death through the two black eyes of a ghost named C (Casey Affleck), M’s (Rooney Mara) husband who had died and whose spirit remained in their home.
Shot in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio (basically a square), the camera provides that claustrophobic environment, as in spirits are trapped in a box of never-ending cycles, which is exactly what the film tries to evoke — the rationale as to why haunted places exist is because ghosts are territorial. The film captures that entrapment as C’s ghost clings to where his loved one has left him, their home, and witnesses time through the growth and end of civilization, and back to square one where humanity begins as he awaits for his wife to come back. Personally, I’d like to coin the film as a subtle version of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, as it showcases the house as a primary character of the movie, and how the spirit is equally as protective as he is territorial of his own space. People come and go in his house — different families, various purposes, metaphorical to that of the Earth, as endless lives have lived in his inner circle, but he remains forever as a representation of the after-life’s eternity. The film basically is a subtle, yet playful contrast of mortality and immortality.
The film also shows that the energy of a ghost is endless — having that insatiable need to be felt, and whose presence needs to be constantly recognized. It serves as a commentary on how human beings are generally hungry for legacy, as everyone always has that innate drive to make a difference and leave a name. Keep in mind that ghosts are once human beings, and now that they are in their post-ultimatum, their haunting suggests how humanity is defined by the race’s need for nihilistic immortality, thanks in huge part to the human ego.
The movie is a directorial piece. The actors are gone in 60% of the shots, and it’s just the ghost figure, the eerie sound bytes and camera movements revolving on screen, where it heavily relies on cosmic images and poetic mise en scenes to create mobility in the narrative. It is oftentimes quiet, which reiterates the solitude as a form of grieving in the after-life, an attribute very reminiscent to that of Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life.
The greatest thing about the film is the fact that there’s a ghost figure in a living cliché image of white sheets and two holes where its eyes poke out, roaming around — yet, it doesn’t feel comical. Not an ounce of tackiness can be felt all throughout the film. It’s almost satirical, wherein it combines two polar elements: one’s over-familiarity of a cliché, and one’s naivety of the unknown. Lowery makes an effort in combining these two to make an equilibrium of what we know and what we don’t know as a step forward in perhaps unlocking a mystery through the personification of a spirit.
Overall, A Ghost Story is almost uncategorizable — it’s purposely not frightening, but it’s haunting; it’s mysterious, but it’s familiar. It’s almost a meditative journey, like climbing a mountain; it’s going to need patience, but the view at the top is beyond worth it.