On paper, A Ghost Story sounds like a goofy joke. A dead man haunting his wife… in a bedsheet with eyeholes? Really? Well, a) it’s not a bedsheet, b) the ghost haunts more than just his wife, and c) never doubt David Lowery’s vision. What seems like a one-trick pony at first slowly metamorphoses into a metaphysical mood piece and tone poem, where grief is not merely relegated to the realm of the living, and time is upended from traditional structures, streaming into our subjective consciousness. Lowery asks quite a lot from his audience, and I’d be shocked if derisive whispers didn’t permeate every screening—after all, not everyone has the patience to watch Rooney Mara consume an entire chocolate pudding pie over the course of 7-8 minutes (and I’m just guessing here, because I wasn’t counting). But I admire this kind of flagrant flouting of convention, so it didn’t bother me. Plus, Rooney commands the screen eating that pie.
Visually, the film is painterly, and the 1:33:1 aspect ratio is not only claustrophobic, but gives the effect of an old, forgotten photo album of daguerreotypes being opened for the first time in decades. Having Casey Affleck looming in various backgrounds and foregrounds while wearing that alabaster shroud, being ignored by the earthly realm, evokes a strange, sorrowful feeling that is heightened by his slow, aimless movements and the forlorn eyeholes that adorn his costume. And when he silently interacts with a neighbouring ghost (via subtitles, of course), there’s such a rich poignancy that affected me in a way I wasn’t expecting. If the concept seems humorous at the beginning (and you can’t be blamed for wanting to chuckle), the melancholy tone quickly grounds this endeavour in something more sacrosanct, and the end result was an experience that will be easily remembered for months and months to come.