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A Ghost Story (2017)

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Like I said on Facebook, if you have the patience, this is a very rewarding movie. 

 

Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, and directed by David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon), it's about a man that dies in a car accident and then, as a ghost, returns to his home to haunt his wife. Sounds straightforward, but there's the visual conceit that the moment Affleck returns as a spirit, he's wearing the sheet he was covered in at the morgue. If you can go with that, you're in for a treat, because it's so much more than just a haunting from the ghost's perspective. 

 

It's a gorgeous movie, like Terrence Malick decided to do a horror movie. Except, as Matt Zoller Seitz points out in his review, it's filmed in "Academy ratio," so that the audience can "see the rounded edges of the frame; this has a constricting effect, so that we seem to be spying through a keyhole at someone else’s life." And it's very deliberately paced, as in it takes its time in a scene and really luxuriates in the emotion of the characters. I kid you not, there's a five-minute-long oner of Mara eating a pie. 

 

But if you break through that wall, about a half hour in it really starts to pick up. I won't go into spoilers unless anyone else has seen this and wants to talk about it, but it starts playing with perceptions of time in a fascinating way. There are little editing and in-camera tricks that show how Affleck's character, just named C as Mara's character is only named M, sees time differently and even non-linearly. And the sense of escalation as Lowery sets up the "rules" and doles out information is just masterful. 

 

I'm not familiar with Lowery's work before this, although I've heard last year's Pete's Dragon is supposed to be surprisingly good. I know he's got my attention. With barely any budget (seriously, this could be a play) he presents a vast sense of scope and ambition. The result is a beautiful tone poem of a movie that is a meditation on love, legacy and the fleetingness of time. 

 

So far my favorite movie of the year. Highly recommended! 

post #2 of 22
Really appreciate this review, as I had been looking forward to seeing this but didn’t realize it was out on Blu yet. I’ll definitely be grabbing a copy tonight when I grab Homecoming!
post #3 of 22
It’s a great film. While it is a bit slow, I think the relatively short run time (90 minutes) ameliorates that fact.
post #4 of 22
Thread Starter 

Yeah, the first half hour lays down this blanket of atmosphere, and then things really start to evolve and change up pretty rapidly once

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
the hispanic family moves into the house. 

After that it becomes a series of vignettes that ebb and flow, moving forward quickly and then slowing down to examine individual moments. 

post #5 of 22

The movie had some good ideas but it felt a bit of a jumble, perhaps intentionally.

 

It was too precious by half but I get that was sort of the tone they were going for. Cute-sad.

 

Really loved certain moments (spoiler: the pie scene, the trashing of the kitchen, the plunge leading to time travel backwards). Really didn't care for others (the rainbow portal to the next level of afterlife, Will Oldham bluntly laying out most of the movie's themes in this huge monologue at the end of the second act, the very end of the movie).

 

Lowery is certainly one to keep an eye on but I keep hoping that he hardens his edges a bit more and self-edits some of his lesser ideas out of his final cuts. Feel the same way about his other work. He's got potential, though!

post #6 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by wasp View Post
 

The movie had some good ideas but it felt a bit of a jumble, perhaps intentionally.

 

It was too precious by half but I get that was sort of the tone they were going for. Cute-sad.

 

Really loved certain moments (spoiler: the pie scene, the trashing of the kitchen, the plunge leading to time travel backwards). Really didn't care for others (the rainbow portal to the next level of afterlife, Will Oldham bluntly laying out most of the movie's themes in this huge monologue at the end of the second act, the very end of the movie).

 

Lowery is certainly one to keep an eye on but I keep hoping that he hardens his edges a bit more and self-edits some of his lesser ideas out of his final cuts. Feel the same way about his other work. He's got potential, though!

I can see that, but the treacliness worked for me.

 

All right, spoiler territory for those that haven't seen it. 

 

The light portal leading to the afterlife was fine because C seems to reject the first one, choosing to stay on Earth, and then it functions as a simple visual signifier of C's fate at the end. Him reading M's note seems to bring him some degree of closure (the female ghost next door disappears when she finally admits to herself that whomever she's waiting for isn't coming back), so the residual prismatic light seemed to indicate he was moving on. 

 

Oldham's hillbilly hipster monologue was kind of odd. I couldn't tell if the movie was on his side or not. The crowd around him seems both exhausted by his rant, like he's done this before when he's got a few beers in him, but also enthralled. C certainly seems to be contemplating the words. 

 

But if Oldham's argument is basically everything is pointless, even art, because eventually it'll be forgotten, I think the movie does disagree with him. C creates the one song that M is listening to (is C some sort of professional musician? I didn't really pick up on what their jobs are supposed to be), so the song outlasts him. By Oldham's argument, though, eventually M will die, and even if the song lives on eventually the Earth will die, and even if humanity moves beyond Earth then eventually the universe will constrict in on itself. So the song is pointless. 

 

Except C's existence as a spirit is a refutation of that. He still exists, his consciousness still goes on, even if it's in a slightly different form. And if you argued that he's in a compromised existence outside of his control, the movie has him loop back in time to the pioneer days where he observes a little girl singing the song. Now I may need to watch the movie again to pick up on the meaning here, or perhaps it's purposefully ambiguous, but either C learns the song from the little girl and then passes it on to his human self (living C seems to sense ghost C, hence why he doesn't want to leave the house), or ghost C communicates the song to the little girl.

 

Either way, the argument seems to be not that art is pointless because the universe will eventually end. It seems to argue for a Slaughterhouse Five/Doctor Manhattan/Arrival view of existence that all time exists at the same time and the future informs the past, forever doubling over itself. 

 

Or put simply, nothing ever ends.  

post #7 of 22

Didn't like it.  Rooney eating a pie for six minutes?  

post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 

And then vomited it all up. What a waste of good pie.

post #9 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bartleby_Scriven View Post
 

I can see that, but the treacliness worked for me.

 

All right, spoiler territory for those that haven't seen it. 

 

The light portal leading to the afterlife was fine because C seems to reject the first one, choosing to stay on Earth, and then it functions as a simple visual signifier of C's fate at the end. Him reading M's note seems to bring him some degree of closure (the female ghost next door disappears when she finally admits to herself that whomever she's waiting for isn't coming back), so the residual prismatic light seemed to indicate he was moving on. 

 

Oldham's hillbilly hipster monologue was kind of odd. I couldn't tell if the movie was on his side or not. The crowd around him seems both exhausted by his rant, like he's done this before when he's got a few beers in him, but also enthralled. C certainly seems to be contemplating the words. 

 

But if Oldham's argument is basically everything is pointless, even art, because eventually it'll be forgotten, I think the movie does disagree with him. C creates the one song that M is listening to (is C some sort of professional musician? I didn't really pick up on what their jobs are supposed to be), so the song outlasts him. By Oldham's argument, though, eventually M will die, and even if the song lives on eventually the Earth will die, and even if humanity moves beyond Earth then eventually the universe will constrict in on itself. So the song is pointless. 

 

Except C's existence as a spirit is a refutation of that. He still exists, his consciousness still goes on, even if it's in a slightly different form. And if you argued that he's in a compromised existence outside of his control, the movie has him loop back in time to the pioneer days where he observes a little girl singing the song. Now I may need to watch the movie again to pick up on the meaning here, or perhaps it's purposefully ambiguous, but either C learns the song from the little girl and then passes it on to his human self (living C seems to sense ghost C, hence why he doesn't want to leave the house), or ghost C communicates the song to the little girl.

 

Either way, the argument seems to be not that art is pointless because the universe will eventually end. It seems to argue for a Slaughterhouse Five/Doctor Manhattan/Arrival view of existence that all time exists at the same time and the future informs the past, forever doubling over itself. 

 

Or put simply, nothing ever ends.  


Yeah, absolutely, that was my reading, as well...

 

 

 

 

I think prior to movies like Interstellar and Arrival, I might have taken a bit more liking to a film like this that kind of hinges on the same core idea, the future informing the past and vice versa. The circular nature of time and existence, the physics and metaphysics of that, an existence which in our mortal lives seems so small and finite and linear. I appreciate films that take this concept, because it is one of my favorites in philosophy and sci-fi, and try to depict that in their stories.

 

But I did see this movie after Interstellar and Arrival, which have just been in the past couple years, and I felt like those films did it better. It was interesting that this film took it from a more metaphysical angle and the tone/pastiche of the film is a bit more abstract and tongue-in-cheek... but I don't know, it just didn't feel quite focused enough on what it wanted to say (and then when it suddenly wanted to spell some things out, it REALLY spelled them out--awkwardly and without much subtlety). I appreciated how it kind of incorporated where art fits into this idea and how important art is, communiques from the eternal consciousness or whatever, but at the end of the film I just didn't feel satisfied by the conclusions and resolutions the film came to. At the same time, it felt very intentional... the film chose not to "satisfy," it was never that kind of film. But I don't know, I just felt a bit non-plussed by the end of the film. Like, it wasn't working on a dramatic level at that point, and conceptually I just don't think it ended up that insightful or compelling. It goes through a couple interesting turns towards the end, seems like it might be heading towards something really significant or resonant... and then it just kind of ends.

 

I dunno, I guess the comparison to Interstellar really didn't help the end of the movie for me. I was like, "I've seen this before! But without a big white sheet with eye-holes!"

post #10 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ambler View Post
 

Didn't like it.  Rooney eating a pie for six minutes?  


I mentioned this as a high point of the move but maybe also it was too much of a gimmick without enough to support the weight of that shot's length.

 

That said, Rooney was good and it was a really memorable shot. It makes you sit with that character, forces you just to be with her in this low place, to the point where the sadness isn't even tangible in the face of just how uncomfortable the moment is.

 

Which is a pretty true accounting for what it's like to be in the presence of deep, soul-numbing grief.

post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by wasp View Post
 


Yeah, absolutely, that was my reading, as well...

 

 

 

 

I think prior to movies like Interstellar and Arrival, I might have taken a bit more liking to a film like this that kind of hinges on the same core idea, the future informing the past and vice versa. The circular nature of time and existence, the physics and metaphysics of that, an existence which in our mortal lives seems so small and finite and linear. I appreciate films that take this concept, because it is one of my favorites in philosophy and sci-fi, and try to depict that in their stories.

 

But I did see this movie after Interstellar and Arrival, which have just been in the past couple years, and I felt like those films did it better. It was interesting that this film took it from a more metaphysical angle and the tone/pastiche of the film is a bit more abstract and tongue-in-cheek... but I don't know, it just didn't feel quite focused enough on what it wanted to say (and then when it suddenly wanted to spell some things out, it REALLY spelled them out--awkwardly and without much subtlety). I appreciated how it kind of incorporated where art fits into this idea and how important art is, communiques from the eternal consciousness or whatever, but at the end of the film I just didn't feel satisfied by the conclusions and resolutions the film came to. At the same time, it felt very intentional... the film chose not to "satisfy," it was never that kind of film. But I don't know, I just felt a bit non-plussed by the end of the film. Like, it wasn't working on a dramatic level at that point, and conceptually I just don't think it ended up that insightful or compelling. It goes through a couple interesting turns towards the end, seems like it might be heading towards something really significant or resonant... and then it just kind of ends.

 

I dunno, I guess the comparison to Interstellar really didn't help the end of the movie for me. I was like, "I've seen this before! But without a big white sheet with eye-holes!"

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by wasp View Post
 


I mentioned this as a high point of the move but maybe also it was too much of a gimmick without enough to support the weight of that shot's length.

 

That said, Rooney was good and it was a really memorable shot. It makes you sit with that character, forces you just to be with her in this low place, to the point where the sadness isn't even tangible in the face of just how uncomfortable the moment is.

 

Which is a pretty true accounting for what it's like to be in the presence of deep, soul-numbing grief.

 

The pie-eating scene is an endurance test. It is. The first half hour asks a lot from the viewer. It's mostly quiet, static shots. C and M on the couch, C and M in bed, M eating the pie. I mean, those three scenes are oners that take up a good chunk of the start! 

 

But the beginning sets up a strong contrast to the rest of the movie. When M is listening to C's song and it cuts back to a living C, this does a few things: it foreshadows the non-linearity that will predominate in the third act, and it lays the groundwork for the editing tricks that became more frequent. Once M leaves the story, the camera comes to life, following C from room to room, and the passage of time speeds up. And it's all so reserved that big moments like the kitchen freakout are all the more powerful for it. 

 

I get what you're saying about Interstellar. What used to be this mind-blowing concept of time that only us few that had read Vonnegut and Alan Moore knew about is now becoming more prominent in cinema. But I liked it here because of how alien it's presented. C is a distant figure, all body language and very little at that. Having him covered in a sheet means he's mostly a blank slate for the audience to project onto. The movie itself is nearly a silent film for a long stretch, and even when the mom and two kids move in they're speaking Spanish so we're still kept at a remove. 

 

I'm reminded of other movies that have attempted to portray such an abstract existence. From a pure plot perspective this has the most in common with Ghost, but other than surface-level stuff the two movies really have nothing in common. There Sam is more like an invisible, intangible man than a ghost, as his perception of the world hasn't been altered. 

 

The Sixth Sense is along the same lines as Ghost, in that Malcolm doesn't seem to be experiencing the world all that differently. Except, knowing in retrospect that he's dead, it becomes clear that there's no space between the scenes. Malcolm isn't "walking" from place to place. There isn't any downtime. What we're seeing is his perception of time, except it's masked by cinematic language. A Ghost Story does the same thing, using editing cuts to show how C sees the world (for instance, the shot-reverse shot of the dead little girl, back to C, back to rotted girl, back to C, back to skeleton girl), but foregrounds it. 

 

I'm also reminded of Enter the Void, the 2010 movie that is entirely from a first-person perspective and follows a man as he's shot and dies. There's a similar sort of anonymity and projection there, as the main character Oscar is kind of a cipher (except for his possibly too-close relationship with his sister), and there's not so much a narrative as a stream-of-consciousness mix of his memories and his flying around the city seeing glimpses of the months and possibly years following his death. That has a similar sort of cyclical ending, which I guess stems from these movies approaching spirituality from a non-denominational or even humanist perspective. 

 

Without religion in the mix, crafting a story about the afterlife seems to default to either reincarnation or finding closure that leads to an ambiguous nothingness, or a bit of both. The Oldham hillbilly hipster monologue brings up the question of God, in his claim that Beethoven and early artists were celebrating God with their art and that allowed their art a kind of transcendence. But other than that and the pioneers praying, there's no clear display of heaven or hell. That clear portal at the beginning could be the pearly gates leading to clouds in the sky and choirs of angels, or it could be becoming one with the Force for all we know. 

 

So this fascination with permanence and temporality is almost approaching spirituality through science. If matter cannot be created or destroyed, it has to go somewhere. So we end up with reincarnation (What Dreams May Come, although there is an afterlife there but it's all a product of perception even if there's a kind of Jungian collective unconsciousness) or basically tachyons moving back and forth through time. 

 

Eh, I don't know. Movie got my brain working. 

post #12 of 22

I really enjoyed this movie.  

 

Rooney eating the pie might be the single most effective portrayal of grief I have seen on film.  The longer the shot went on the more unbearable it started to become for me.  

post #13 of 22
Thread Starter 

Yeah, it's not for everyone, but I like I said above if you get on the movie's wavelength then that's an incredible scene. Rooney communicates "I really should stop" and "fuck it, I don't even care" perfectly, and it's all through her face and body language. 

post #14 of 22

I don't have a problem with most deliberately paced, abstract cinema.  But every movie is made up of different elements.  My opinion of them depends on how those elements are put together by the filmmaker.  Some work, some don't.  While A Ghost Story has some isolated moments I liked, it did not sit well with me as a whole.

post #15 of 22
I liked it. Felt it could have gone even weirder in that last act.

Was the girl in the window the girl on the prairie?
post #16 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Turingmachine75 View Post

I liked it. Felt it could have gone even weirder in that last act.

Was the girl in the window the girl on the prairie?

The third act felt like it was straining against its budget, that's reported as only being $100,000. I imagine with a few million dollars Lowery might've attempted something similar to Tree of Life starting at the dawn of time, going up through the dinosaurs and then to the present day. 

 

And no, whoever the Neighbor's Ghost is, they're too big to be that little girl (as the director is actually the one under that sheet). 

post #17 of 22

good call on Enter the Void, I didn't even think of that as a comparable because tonally and stylistically the two movies are so completely different. but you're right in terms of it very much being "man dies, tries to hold onto his former life but instead his ghost discovers the unseen, churning cycles of existence."

post #18 of 22

I'm being haunted by this movie right now.  I've thought about it all day.  It's resonating with me on a subjective level.

post #19 of 22
This movie was so insufferable that critics were walking out of my screening.

http://www.daggerpress.com/2017/07/20/a-ghost-story-no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel/
post #20 of 22
Maybe it was too scary?
post #21 of 22
Thread Starter 
One of my favorite of the year!
post #22 of 22

I think that folks' reactions to this ultimately come down to whether they like the sheet-with-eyeholes conceit. Me, I thought that was brilliant.

 

Side note: Apparently, most of the time it's not Affleck under the sheet, but the production designer. They started shooting with Affleck but decided that the ghost needed to be a completely blank presence.

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