December 10, 2017

A Ghost Story

In A Ghost Story, Casey Affleck plays a man who dies in a car accident, and spends the rest of the movie a ghost, donning the stock white bed sheet with two eyeholes cut into it, like one of the trick-or-treaters from It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Much of the film involves Affleck's character, besheeted, standing inside his old house, watching his former wife, played by Rooney Mara, as she navigates her unexpected new life as a young widow. The film was written and directed by David Lowery, and its simple and austere plot and filmmaking may be a direct reaction against the big-budget Pete's Dragon, which Lowery was also working on at the time. But there's nothing in A Ghost Story to hold our attention. The film ponders life's big questions in an obvious and dull way, and much of it is simply static. We're left to fill in long scenes of people standing, staring, saying nothing, doing nothing, with our own thoughts and feelings. I like a film that gives me space to enter its world and think about it, but the world of A Ghost Story is drab and listless, and the longer the movie went on, the more I began to itch for something dramatic and over-the-top: Give me an overacted Tennessee Williams adaptation over this dismal stuff any day of the week. The film reaches some kind of philosophical head at a party scene, near the end, after even Casey Affleck's ghost has somewhat faded into the background. A guest at the party delivers a long speech about the meaningless of life. The movie's explorations of these questions, however admirable and bold, is not very interesting. Perhaps we're meant to experience some kind of catharsis from A Ghost Story, or to experience it as cinematic poetry. If it is a cinematic poem, it's from the Mary Oliver school of poetry,  brimming with self-congratulatory observations that are militantly simple and "earthy."

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