A Ghost Story

Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Oct 05, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Phil Elverum’s latest album begins with the line “Death is real/Someone’s there and then they’re not.” It’s an uncomfortably accurate message for all those who’ve experienced loss, but what if that loss sits on both sides of the equation? A Ghost Story moves across the veil to follow the lonely vigil of the lost one for a devastating meditation on mourning and moving on. That it’s all done while Casey Affleck wanders about wearing a giant sheet with eyeholes cut out makes it all the more impressive.

We’ll get to the sheet. First M (Rooney Mara) and C (Casey Affleck) are that exquisitely styled hipster couple living together in a Texas suburbia providing just the right mix of chic squalor and rustic charm to make their situation desirable. He comes with a mildly unkempt beard and she wears hair tied back, both dressed in dull colors. Their love story isn’t really the thing on display. Before much time has passed, C has passed, in a car crash outside the house.

Director/writer David Lowery isn’t one to rush here. He’ll cut in for extreme close-ups but he’s just as happy to sit the camera back and watch slow-moving scenes. This is how we first find the car crash, and it’s how M sees C, covered in his sheet in the morgue. The camera remains long after she’s left, watching nothing happening until he sits up and leaves.

A Ghost Story is about the difficulty that comes with letting go. Sheet-wearing ghost C walks all the way home, striding through fields in a haze of gorgeous imagery. Back home, he can do no more than watch as M struggles with grief, and struggles out of grief, moving towards a future again. This is the pain of loss from the other side. The person left behind gets a second chance while the life stopped permanently can’t restart.

Everything hits hard but some moments are worse than others. Despite being trapped behind bedding, his minor reaction when he sees M kissing another person is enough to make anyone wince. When she lies on the floor, hand reaching the hem of his sheet while listening to a song he introduced her to, emotion bursts up to unstoppable levels.

Lowery expands on this ghostly hidden world when C catches sight of another sheet-wearing figure next door. They have their own vigil going on, though they no longer know why. Other figures float in briefly including Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), pontificating on legacy at a party, but it’s about C and M, both as present and disappeared figures.

As the end draws near, events overtake C and time loops, scored with stark bursts of beautifully curated music. Realizations come with much delay and much suffering. A Ghost Story has a man in a sheet haunting the woman he lost, but the only one he’s really haunting is himself. No one said letting go is easy. Rarely does anything capture how hard it can be.

Author rating: 8.5/10

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