A Ghost Story is a meditative look on the experience of death. Well, meditative is an understatement. A Ghost Story almost never strays from its sloth-like pace and overall vibe of pretentiousness, making the entire hour and a half investment feel like a trip into an amateur poetry basement.
A Ghost Story’s message is not complex: life goes on whether we want it to or not. But its execution is slow and overly contemplative. With a script that features extended, unbroken camera shots of silence with a few lines of stunted dialogue, A Ghost Story has you wondering if you, like the ghost, would have been better off staying at home.
There isn’t much to say about the spook himself, C, portrayed by Academy Award winner Casey Affleck. Once he dies and leaves his girlfriend, M (Rooney Mara) to grieve his loss, C could be any 5 foot 9 gentleman in a sheet, relegated to a passive existence moored to the house he never wanted to leave when alive. This ghost story doesn’t involve chain-rattling or haunted tombstones (for the most part); that may have given the ghost some personality. Instead, C watches the world move on without him in tragic silence, often standing motionless in the corner of a room. Throughout his lurking, C attempts to retrieve a note his girlfriend has left in the walls of the house before she left.
C’s girlfriend’s mourning seems to happen quickly. When the wound is fresh, she consumes an entire pie herself (in a seemingly unending five-minute sequence). But she soon moves on and leaves the house and her hidden note for good. M’s ability to get over her dead boyfriend coupled with the minimal exposition granted to the young couple makes it seem as though their relationship did not have much substance at all apart from their chemistry while cuddling (yet another painfully long sequence).
And their chemistry was not all that great either. The intensity between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Jerry Zucker’s Ghost (1990) was electrifying and tear-jerking, everything the connection between Affleck and Mara was not. Further, Swayze’s ghost was relatable and more importantly, better defined. A lot of guesswork on the audience’s part was required to figure out the limitations and rules of the ghosts in A Ghost Story. Could the ghosts interact with the mortal world? Did people see them? Who knows?
All of this ambiguity comes to a crescendo at the end of the movie, when C, after years of trying, finally reaches M’s note in the wall. But we never get to see just what it is that puts this ghost’s troubled soul to rest – that would be too clear.
Instead, A Ghost Story nurtures interpretation. And in this way, stays with you when you leave the theater, whether you like it or not. Behind its pretentious façade, A Ghost Story is a unique, albeit dreary, look at life, death, and the loneliness in between.