Despite its October Blu-ray release, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is not a horror movie. It’s actually the furthest thing from the genre. Yes, there is a ghost, but it doesn’t sneak up on people and try to frighten them. The ghost in this film is one that watches as time passes by on the things he held close to his heart while he was alive. It’s heartbreaking for him, and for us, to see as there are so many changes taking place, and the only thing he can do is stand there and watch.
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a young couple known only as C and M, as it has it listed in the credits at the end of the movie. It’s unclear if they are married or if they are just living together. They own their own home, so it’s more likely they are married. But there have been couples that purchase houses before getting married or don’t get married at all. Anyway, he’s a musician, and she has some unknown job that has her constantly leaving in a rush.
It’s clear early on that these two love each other, with the opening shot focused on them snuggling on the couch and laughing. But as A Ghost Story progresses, we notice that there are some strains. He wants to stay in the house because of its “history,” while she’s hoping they can find someplace else to live. She’s constantly working, while he’s making music that seems to be going nowhere, and there are times where his work drowns out all that surrounds him. To him, things are fine the way they are. To her, she wants change.
Affleck and Mara, having worked with Lowery previously on 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, have great chemistry together, and the ups and downs of a relationship are captured exquisitely here and not painted as something without its faults. We only spend a few minutes with C and M together before C dies in a car crash just outside of their home. M later identifies the body at the morgue and then leaves shocked and sadden. After she leaves, Lowery focuses in length on Affleck’s body covered by a white sheet. The sheet rises, and for the rest of the movie, Affleck walks around in the same sheet, witnessing everything taking place through the cut-out holes.
C witnesses as M tries to move on, but it’s not an easy task for either of them. He wants to help her. He wants to let her know that he’s in the same room as she is. But, unfortunately, he can’t. He’s just standing there mute and observant as she leaves for work every day. He sees her trying to move forward and start a new relationship with someone new. This doesn’t appease him, which causes him to get upset and cause havoc. M is unsure what is causing this, furthering her unpleasantness with the house and for living there.
A Ghost Story is a minimalist production that raises big questions about what happens when we die, and how our loved ones will react to our demise. It is one of very little dialogue and long takes that become a test for the moviegoer’s patience but can be rewarding to those who are able to absorb what the movie is trying to tell us through its visuals. It certainly won me over.
One long take, in particular, is of M eating a pie all to herself while she’s trying to overcome her grief. Lowery focuses on Mara as she devours the dish, while Affleck stands there, white sheet and all, just watching. The camera doesn’t cut to close-ups of the pie going in her mouth or shift location as she bolts to the bathroom to vomit it all up. It just stays there as the whole event unfolds.
Its moments like this that are uncomfortable and hard to watch, and may be off-putting to some for its drawn-out focus. But it’s also an accurate depiction of grief and how it feels like nothing is really happening, how moments in life seem to be dragging, and how there’s this feeling that even though someone is gone from the physical world, they are still with us spiritually.
Even after M leaves the house, C is still there, watching as it changes ownership numerous times. A young family takes over, and then a group of college-aged partygoers after them. Lowery then jumps through time and focuses on when the house was first built and how it evolved over time. C witnesses everything that happens in the past, present, and future, but can’t do anything to change it. He’s stuck in a sort of limbo.
All of this is shown to us through a 4:3 aspect ratio, making it seem like we are watching someone’s home movies. Whereas a widescreen presentation would have made the film feel more distant, the 4:3 is just perfect in focusing on the emotions of M as she deals with loss, and it also works in showing the viewer on how time passes by quicker than expected.
The concept of Affleck walking around with what looks to be a last-minute Halloween costume that most young children are seen wearing may sound cheesy upon just hearing about it. But A Ghost Story is a far more impactful and emotionally resonating feature than one could imagine. It’s a big, atmospheric picture that is lovely to look at and leaves the viewer stunned after its final scene.
A Ghost Story comes to Blu-ray with a 16x9 widescreen 1.78:1 presentation. The squared, curve-edged presentation is intentional, and looks absolutely gorgeous, while the 5.1 DTS sound perfectly captures Daniel Hart’s haunting score. It’s a terrific transfer in both of those departments.
The special features section contains a nice 20-minute video, also shot in 4:3 aspect ratio, called "A Ghost Story and the Inevitable Passing of Time," which focuses on the making of the film in seven different parts. The discussion takes place in the Sedamsville Rectory in Ohio, which has a history of being possibly haunted. It’s actually one of the better making-of features on a Blu-ray that I’ve seen in some time, because it gives time to many different parts of the movie and how it was made, as opposed to just being a quick, general discussion of the making of a movie as a whole.
The other features include "A Composer’s Story," which focuses on Hart’s decision to come up with the music for A Ghost Story and how one of his band’s songs is featured in the movie. There is also one deleted scene and an audio commentary with Lowery, Hart, and others from behind-the-scenes talking about, among many things, how they were able to work with the framing of the movie, since they were using a unique approach in making it.
By the end of it, I still had some questions that I was asking myself about A Ghost Story. But the one thing I do know is that it’s one of the most rewarding films of the year and one that I’ll revisit again soon.
A Ghost Story will be released on October 3, 2017.