Perhaps a tad romanticized, but there is a personal comfort in believing we will wake up after the moment of flatlining, still lingering on the same plane as the living. As for reaching out, only two ways are available – on the anniversary of our death and during a festival venerating the dead. Sure as heck our appearances will be more pleasing than what contemporary horror cinema think we look like. But since there is still the word “life” in “afterlife,” is an expiration date still upon us? When it is there, what shall happen? These questions promptly surface, and extend the waking hours, every time the “thought of the night” is demise. There is too little foundation to conjure some sort of answer.
“…there is a personal comfort in believing we will wake up after the moment of flatlining.”
Cue the savior in the form of director David Lowery, whose return to indie after Pete’s Dragon not only resolves the issue but does so in an incredibly refined way. Thus far, A Ghost Story is the most thoughtful cinematic depiction of what happens when we die.
Standing in for us on this journey is C (Casey Affleck), a struggling musician with a bucolic life that is harshly shortened after a deadly car accident in front of the driveway. Consistent with the serene atmosphere built since the dreamlike starting minutes, only the aftermath is shown; the birds’ chirping is more audible than the creaking metal. Afterward, we see M (Rooney Mara) fixates on her husband’s body, motionless throughout, trying to accept the stillness as much as waiting for him to rise. He did the latter, invisible to everyone and in a wholly different getup: A white sheet with black holes for eyes.
While the moment does live up to the netizens’ Best Costume Design jokes, A Ghost Story is also teaching a rather depressing lesson here: even our own body is on the laundry list of things we can’t take into hereafter. Maybe the sheet is our “birthday suit” in this existence. The flash of silliness dies as Daniel Hart’s ethereal notes swell, fusing C’s postmortem walk with a mix of the beautiful and the surreal. The setting is a hospital, but Lowery turns it into a terminal between two worlds. He actually visualizes how grownups in the family had described it, now artfully lensed in 1.33:1 ratio by Andrew Droz Palermo.
“…it seems that regardless of the plane we live in, time determines our existence.”
So begins our filling into the ghost’s, um, shoes, being a passenger as it goes through a passive existence. M spending her days alone, different owners coming in and the abode evolves into a skyscraper – C can either watch or interact in a way that always causes people (except the neighboring lady ghost, played by Kesha) to misinterpret his intentions. We give them to him, how he feels and what his thoughts right then are, and that is a novel spin in courting our attachment to the lead. That said, it won’t be surprising to see some moviegoers using A Ghost Story’s neatest feature to shred it; nowadays they are less patient and more particular in shelling out for experiences. Ready to spot walkouts, or at the least viewers catching zzzs, when Lowery lingers on the couple to make sure they fall asleep and (the now-famous) M grief-eating a pie.
Side note: When there is spare time, Google the latter.
But through every moment of the slow and the slower, Lowery, who also wrote the script, has a bigger item to share with us: time. In the film’s wisdom, it seems that regardless of the plane we live in, time determines our existence, asserting it the true controller of lives from beginning to end. No fun enduring the horological pressure, but c’est la vie (or après-vie). Out of this is a lesson the film offers us: Freedom lies in living with a thought about time and – afterward – timing. Key moments, one with C near the end, one with the lady ghost and one about a drunken fortune-teller (Will Oldham), have tremendous weight due to this.
Hence, fear not the bumps in the night for even they are haunted by the ticking of the clock. And on that note, found something new for the brain to ruminate in the dead hours of the day.
A Ghost Story (2017) Directed and Written by: David Lowery. Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Rob Zabrecky.
8.5 out of 10