Ghost Story: An Emotionally Haunting Tale

Rooney-Mara-and-Casey-Affleck-in-A-GHOST-STORY-photo-credit-Bret-CurryBY DEAN MOSES

With a title like A Ghost Story, one might assume this film is brimming with terrifying supernatural moments, à la Paranormal Activity or Poltergeist. While there are certainly scary sections punctuating its unusual narrative, these instances focus on existential fears, such as chronophobia (fear of time) or metathesiophobia (fear of change), rather than that of a paranormal nature.

At the Spring Creek Sun, we have brought our readers film reviews up to a year before the movie they are examining hits theaters. These innovative motion pictures are often shown at Film Festivals like Tribeca or the New York Film Festival. Now we are bringing you titles from a festival right here in Brooklyn— BAM: Brooklyn Academy of Music. Located at 30 Lafayette Ave, the Peter Jay Sharp Building hosts musical events, plays, and its very own Film Festival. We attended the event, reviewing the films on exhibition—beginning with A Ghost Story.

The term art-house comes to mind when considering A Ghost Story, a phrase often used to describe experimental cinematography and storytelling. This genre places a strong emphasis on visual style, telling a tale through graphic description and set design, rather than dialogue. The plot follows a young married couple. They are a seemingly content pair, loving, hardworking, and happy with one another. They reside in their own, quaint house in a rural area of the United States. We discover a nameless man, played by Academy Award Winner Casey Affleck, a musician, traveling to and from his house to go on tour with his band. No sooner are we introduced to him, we find him dead, behind the wheel of a car. This unfortunate accident takes place directly outside his home, only amplifying the tragedy.

Next, we see the man’s wife, played by Rooney Mara, weeping over her husband’s body at the local hospital. Concealed by a shroud, she leaves her deceased husband to the cold metal slab and empty morgue. Soon thereafter the shroud rises from its slab: a sheet with two black eye holes poked in—the classic representation of a Halloween ghost. While it seems comedic and rather odd at first to see a man in a bed sheet lurking through the hallways of a hospital—passing by patients, doctors, and nurses—there is an overarching ethereal atmosphere that penetrates us viewers, leaving us feeling both entranced and somewhat melancholy. Our late protagonist drifts out of the medical facility and into a vast field. This green pasture encompasses the entire screen, while the ghost we trail is a mere white speck dotting the landscape, his sheet dragging behind him like a cloak, or (if one wants to look at it from a more philosophical point of view) a burden, his own albatross, akin to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. From here he returns home, observing his beloved wife throughout the grieving process.

This is where director and writer David Lowery makes use of painfully long, uncut shots, such as showcasing the widow inexplicably clutching a pie (left by a concerned well-wisher) before falling to the floor and devouring it between uncontrolled sobs and whimpers. This goes on and on, unabridged for, what feels like, on one’s first viewing, a deplorable amount of time, forcing us to face, head on, the distress left in death’s wake. From here on out the world of A Ghost Story becomes stranger and more haunting with every passing second, and in that time, makes us contemplate its terrifying theme: the loss of love and ultimately the horrifying truth that one day we will all be forgotten.

A Ghost Story explores death in a way no motion picture has done before. Not only that, it left me with harrowing thoughts weeks after its conclusion, and that is quite a feat for a film that contains no gore.