Review by Robyn Kilroy
A few months ago, while scrolling through You Tube in search of trailers for upcoming films, I came across a trailer that instantly had my interest. With the title A Ghost Story and the thumbnail being someone dressed in a white sheet with eye holes cut out, I was intrigued and watched it. Since watching this trailer (and re-watching it about fifty times) I had been curious to see how director David Lowery would make a film about a man in a white sheet portraying a ghost and for it to be taken seriously. Despite this odd central image, I found myself mesmerized for the entirety of the film. The plot itself follows a man called “C” (Casey Affleck) who, after dying in a car crash, comes back as a ghost and haunts the house where he and his partner “M” (Rooney Mara) lived. He watches on as time goes by, from the present to the future, and even going back to the past, catching glimpses of different time periods. Through this, Lowery depicts how big time and existence truly is, and how small we are in comparison.
When talking about this film with friends and family and describing the main character to be this silent expressionless grown man dressed in a white sheet with eye holes, many of them laughed at the idea. After all, the image of the white sheet is generally tied to dodgy hand-made Halloween costumes for kids. However, I found this portrayal of a ghostly figure to be highly effective. It brings a level of simplicity to the film, bringing a sense of innocence to the ghost, rather than it being a menacing invisible character or a CGI ghost. This simple and innocent take on the character of the ghost means that his emotions are conveyed strongly, even though he is silent and expressionless. We feel his helplessness as he watches time go by, as the people around him begin the move on and world changes. The only form of communication we see him having as a ghost is with the other ghost next door, who is waiting for someone to return, only he can’t remember who he’s waiting for. These brief conversations are displayed through subtitles as the ghosts cannot talk. Surprisingly, these silent conversations present some of the most emotional dialogue in the film. Lowery allows us to feel the ghosts’ sense of powerlessness; they are unable to stop the world from changing around them.
This simple and innocent take on the character of the ghost means that his emotions are conveyed strongly, even though he is silent and expressionless.
An interesting stylistic feature of the film (which moviegoers either love or hate) is very long takes. Some of the takes in this film are very long, including an already infamous scene in which Rooney Mara’s character eats an entire pie. Though these long takes slow the film down and may be tedious to get through, I found them necessary for this film. After all, this film depicts time and its enormity and through using these long takes this idea is also depicted. For example, in the aforementioned pie eating scene, the length of the scene truly shows Rooney Mara’s character’s suffering as she grieves over her dead partner. By showing this in two very long takes, Lowery in a way depicts the enormity of her grief as the ghost watches on in the background, motionless and helpless.
To conclude, this film broke my heart. I must applaud Lowery’s ability to explore a topic as heavy and existential as time and existence through a character as innocent and bizarre as a ghost in a white sheet. However, had Lowery gone down another route and depicted the ghost in a more generic or popular way, I doubt that it would have the same effect. Whether you end up loving or hating this film, everyone can take away something from this film.