David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a film that is quite different from most others that I’ve seen. The pacing is slow, almost glacial. The long static takes, allowing you to fully take in the entirety of the small format, allowing you time to investigate and feel everything that is occurring (or not occurring) on the screen. It is beautifully shot and impeccably directed and completely engrossing.
Our two main characters, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, hardly have any lines to say but both manage to get so much more across than you would have thought possible. Mara has so much of the camera and a large amount of it is up close, examining her face for emotion, investigating what is happening and she manages to portray all this with hardly a word said; the grief, the helplessness, the frustration at her situation. It is truly mesmeric. Affleck has little to do in the first part, showing a languid and distant manner, to what we don’t quite know. Affleck’s performance under the childish Halloween costume ghost sheet is entrancing and emotive, quite how he was able to convey so much from under there is a wonder.
His death gets us to the real heart of the film: Affleck becoming the ghost of the title and finding himself drawn inexplicably back to his house. Taking in such themes as timelessness and longing, loving and losing, moving on, holding onto the past, and ultimately the infinity that awaits us all. The concepts are not small by any means and most are intangible, things that can only be hinted at but never fully explored, although we do get a good attempt at quantifying this as Affleck’s ghost passes through some other peoples timelines. A Ghost Story does a great job of trying to express or show some of those things. In particular the slowness of the ghost’s action juxtaposed with the huge passages of passing time was amazingly visualised as was the thought that ghosts wearing sheets were responsible for any kind of supernatural disturbance.
Alongside this the direction has to take credit for what we perceive to be happening on the screen, perfectly capturing the moment or emotion that is required. The long takes allow such a great development of the emotion with the well documented 4 minute pie eating scene is a wonderful example of how you can use these type of shots to full effect. I have not been in a cinema that has been as silent or as still as this one was. With large swathes of time passing without hardly a sound coming from the picture save birds tweeting or a sheeted Affleck walking through some fields, everyone was entranced, enthralled at what was happening. The imagery throughout was astounding even with the smaller, almost square 1.33:1 format, you forgot about it and get totally sucked into the unfolding drama on the screen.
Whilst I still feel that I haven’t managed to fully grasp the enormity of the concepts I can still fully appreciate the craftsmanship and amazing acting that has gone into making this film. In time I might be able to process everything that went on but in the meantime, I’m more than happy to say that this is a superb piece of film.