A Ghost Story (2017)
Critic Consensus: A Ghost Story deftly manages its ambitious themes through an inventive, artful, and ultimately poignant exploration of love and loss.
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Critic Reviews for A Ghost Story
A meditation on loss but also on legacy - on our enduring need to endure.
An adventure in mundanity that makes excellent use of the tension between those two words.
"A Ghost Story" is an oddly haunting, wholly original trip.
You may not understand "A Ghost Story." But you won't forget it.
A Ghost Story is the most unusual and loneliest phantasm saga ever to give you the shivers.
Audience Reviews for A Ghost Story
Ever wanted to see Oscar-nominated actress Rooney Mara eat a pie? Odd question, I realize, but apparently one that writer/director David Lowery felt compelled to answer. With the success of last year's utterly heart-warming Disney remake of Pete's Dragon, Lowery secretly made a low-budget movie with Casey Affleck and Mara, reuniting two of his actors from Ain't Them Bodies Saints. The end result, A Ghost Story, literally involves a deceased Affleck stalking the screen in a long white sheet with two eyeholes. Lowery's tone poem of metaphysical grief will likely alienate just as many people as it dazzles, and I fall squarely in the former camp. This movie is arthouse bluster. This is a twenty-minute short stretched beyond a breaking point to fit a feature-length running time. It's an impressionistic movie in the guise of the works of Terrence Malick, small and earnest and far more concerned about mood than story. That's fine but if you're going the impressionistic route I need scenes that aren't self-indulgently laborious and constantly striking the same note. The majority of this movie is beautifully composed shots that eventually reveal the ghost standing in the background. It becomes a game of guessing when the camera will reveal the ghost's presence. I understand that grief and loneliness is going to naturally deserve a slower pace to get a sense of the melancholic loss, but a slow movie that keeps delivering the same imagery is monotonous. The metaphors get old. The only thing holding the audience together is the time-traveling quest for the ghost to retrieve the note Mara's character slipped into a door jam. It's a long mystery that will ultimately prove an unworthy payoff. If Lowery is intending for the audience to feel the same sense of boredom and isolation as the ghost, that's fine, but the movie dwells in this same emotional space with too little variance or further insight. And this is where I have to come back to the pie as a symbol of the film's self-indulgence. I have felt the urge to walk out of other movies but never acted upon them. I was minutes away from walking out on A Ghost Story, and it was the pie-eating scene that almost pushed me to bail. The idea of binge eating your feelings is a suitable metaphor for grief, and it works on its own initially, as she sniffles and holds back tears with every bite. And then she keeps eating. And then she keeps eating. The scene goes on for like ten minutes, uninterrupted, and with no further commentary. You are literally watching Mara eat a pie in real time and then throw up. After the sixth or so minute of pie consumption, I started laughing out loud, and then other people around me joined in. What can you do? Just as Mara's character overindulges to the point of sickness, this scene pushes the beleaguered audience to the point of running out of the room gagging. This would be different if the movie gave Mara anything really to do besides swallow her feelings. She has a few more scenes of the humdrum of moving on, painting the house she shared with her loved one, and then leaving. It seems like an awful waste of Mara's talents but I would say the same thing for Affleck. I'm sure not having to memorize any lines after the ten-minute mark and getting to emote entirely through physical expression could be fun for an actor. It's practically a throwback to silent film thespians. However, he's just kind of there, like living furniture. I understand that part of grief is feeling like you're a forgotten being and that time is infinite and punishing. I understand that sadness can feel numbing and cut to the bone. I get the mood; I even get the central metaphor of the de-contextualized ghost in a sheet just hanging around old haunts, unable to do much else, disconnected from the world and unable to move on or make sense of things. My issue is that this approach relegates the actors to stand-ins, squeezing the characters into intentionally bland ciphers for audience relatability. They are not allowed to be characters because somehow this would detract from the artistic appeal or message. It's frustrating because A Ghost Story has ideas, images, and moments that intrigue, beguile, and have a poignant power. It's when the film expands beyond its limited parameters that it becomes its more interesting shape. As the ghost attempts to keep watch over Mara's character, time moves much faster, to the point that a mere walk from one room to another can be the expanse of months. The triptych sequence of being unmoored through time, as everything speeds by so quickly, accentuates the helplessness of the ghost as well as the isolation. It's like the world and life itself is outgrowing them, forgetting them, and leaving them further and further behind. There are also other ghosts and our ghost has a subtitled dialogue with them. It sounds silly but it's actually one of the most sublimely affecting moments in the film, an idea that actually hits its intended mark. Take this exchange: "I'm waiting for someone," "Who?" "I don't remember." Then the other ghost goes back to waiting, forever hopeful, forever clinging onto something that has long since evaporated, where even the memory, the concept of the idea of why has also vanished. Late into the movie the ghost starts going backwards and forwards in time, to a distant future of Bladerunner-like neon high-rises, to the nineteenth century to track a family of westward settlers. The abrupt careening through time says more about the ghost's existence and it keeps things fresh. If this movie was a total wash, I could write off Lowery's curio as self-important navel-gazing, but there are kernels of ideas, or moments, that stand out and demand a better presentation for better effect A Ghost Story will definitely strike different people differently. It's a deeply personal, poetic, and, if you're not properly attuned to its metaphysical funeral procession, pretentious and pondersome film that wears out its welcome long before the end credits. I found the substance to be spread too thin over such a longer running time than this execution deserved. If you're going for an impressionistic evocation, then the scenes need to be paced better. If you're going for a mood of loneliness, then latch onto the character better and let's follow Mara's character as she rebounds and grows old. If you're going for an existential horror movie, then present more confusion and terror and less of the same visual metaphors on constant repeat. If you're going for Rooney Mara eating an entire pie in real time, then, well, actually you've succeeded. Congratulations. A Ghost Story is going to be one of those movies that critics fawn over that leaves me shrugging. Nate's Grade: C
A Ghost Story is a thematic contemporary minimalistic piece of cinema that will not appeal to many people. Straight away there were people leaving the cinema or sniggering at the concept. It might sound like a horror film, it is not. Do not watch this expecting jump scares...although, funnily, there were one or two. This is an extremely heavy story that explores deep themes including existentialism, legacy and the passage of time. A couple reside peacefully in a small house until one of them is killed in a car accident and returns in a ghostly form. The ghost is presented simply as a man under some bed sheets with some eyes cut out. Minimalistic. The dialogue is sparse to enhance the visual narration of the story. Minimalistic. The camera, for many scenes, will not move for a good 5 minutes. Minimalistic. The majority of the film takes place in one house. Minimalistic. Ok fine, you get the idea. Director David Lowery did not require a massive budget to convey the idea of time. That's the beauty of this! The purpose is to interrogate the question of: "who suffers the most pain, the widow as they mourn or the ghost that observes them moving on?". An absolutely fascinating premise. Seemingly trapped in the afterlife in what I can only describe as a time loop, the ghost not just observes their widow moving on, but other generations after. An imprisonment fuelled by sorrow. The ghost cannot communicate verbally and yet somehow I felt their pain through the limp and slow movement which made the whole film melancholic. The genius move to have the camera in a 4:3 aspect ratio in order to enhance the idea of being trapped. There were times though that I found Lowery slightly borderline pretentious. A 3 minute take of Mara and Affleck in bed was too slow for its own good. In contrast, Mara eating a pie for a 5 minute take was far more gratifying to watch. I did also find that a scene where a guy talks about legacy and existence just ruined the subtlety that the narrative was clearly trying to convey. Deeply thematic, but borderline pretentious.
It's not what A Ghost Story is saying. It's how A Ghost Story says it. Like chimes gently rustling in the wind or chills slowly creeping up your arms A Ghost Story somehow manages to give a sense of being so distant you're not one hundred percent sure what is causing the noise or the feeling, but at the same time it feels so deeply personal and so intimately cutting that deep down in your soul you know what it is. You know it's the wind, but you imagine something more ethereal. You know it's the melody of the song you're listening to, but you imagine it's because the singer is speaking directly to you; into your ear. It's difficult to describe past these dumbfounded attempts at articulating something meaningful just how much A Ghost Story hits you-that is, if it hits you. While it's difficult to describe all of the emotions and thoughts this latest film from David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon) left me with I realize it will just as difficult for some people to understand what it is, what it's trying to do, or what the big deal is at all. And in many regards, this is understandable. This is a very quiet film-a film where people don't communicate and we, the audience, must discern what is happening and what is being felt from that non-verbal communication. We must allow Lowery and his 4:3 aspect ratio images to wash over us in a way that requires a fair amount of patience. If patient, the film seemingly speaks to you. If not, there is no need to waste your time on it. For me though, A Ghost Story worked in stages in that at first I was curious; never knowing where the story might lead or what might happen to the characters we see come in and out of the picture. Then, once the structure began to take shape, it became about the ideas-the themes of subjective spirituality, the concept of time and how it's the one thing we can't get more of no matter how rich we are, or the pain of dealing with loss and death and the inevitable nothingness everyone's future is likely to be, but that we hope and pray it's not. It's bleak. It's very bleak and it's very sad in how it captures small truths about life and the relationships we form while we're here. It's a film I find difficult to comprehend fully and thus is likely the reason it continues to resonate with me even days after seeing it and having watched several other films since. I keep returning to images, to sounds, and to the thoughts it instigated in my brain. It's a movie not for everyone, but if you find it's for you it's something pretty special. read the whole review at www.reviewsfromabed.com
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