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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
David Lowery
MPAA RATING
NR
RUNNING TIME
92 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
A24 Films
OFFICIAL WEBSITE

 "A Ghost Story" is Occasionally the Film Lowery Wants it to Be 
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There are times when A Ghost Story is precisely the film that writer/director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) intends it to be, aiming not to be a masterpiece but to be a simple, meaningful cinematic journey simultaneously intimate yet universal, intensely thought-provoking and perversely funny. 

Then, there are the other times. These are the times when A Ghost Story begins to tiptoe toward that old Saturday Night Live skit "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy," though I get the sense that more often than not these moments are intentional even if they are maddening or derivative or pretentious or even downright silly. 

A Ghost Story is, for the most part, the best film that Lowery has ever made, a devastatingly wrenching film that is neither the love story that the film's trailer would lead you to believe it to be nor the haunted, semi-horror story that one occasionally glimpses while trying to figure out "Should I go see this film?" 

My somewhat hesitating answer to such a question is "Yes, you should go see it!," recognizing that there will be those who leave the theater proclaiming A Ghost Story to be pretentious, narcissistic, or just plain meaningless. If you are the sort who struggles to truly surrender to a filmmaker's universe then, in all likelihood, A Ghost Story isn't for you because it is a film that demands surrender at different times and in different ways. Failure to do so will, most assuredly, impact your appreciation for the film.

However, if you're the type of moviegoer who surrenders to full-on immersion in cinematic universes then you are likely the kind of person who will find yourself more than a little in awe of this universe created by Lowery, a universe that feels familiar because it taps into that universal spirit in which this entire universe is, indeed, familiar and meaningful and intimate and universal. 

If you surrender, you will understand because you can't not understand. 

Casey Affleck, whom I've often struggled with as an actor and the same is very much true here, is known simply in the film as C, a music producer who has moved he and his wife into this older home that is filled from wall to wall with the kinds of memories you scribe on its walls and embed deep within its foundations. Rooney Mara is M, his wife, who wants to move to a newer, shinier place but chooses to honor C's strange affection for the place. 

A Ghost Story seemingly starts off mysteriously, M and C bolted awake by a mysterious crash on the keys of a piano that had come with their home, a stationary reminder of someone else's journey. It isn't long after this scene that A Ghost Story becomes a ghost story as C has been killed in a car wreck but M, lost within her grief, is still not home alone. 

The central visual that guides A Ghost Story's journey may seem silly, a ghost simply yet beautifully realized in much the same way you and I dressed as ghosts for Halloween, but rest assured that, once again, full-on surrender to A Ghost Story will bring a deeper meaning to it all. 

There are scenes in A Ghost Story that won't play well to wider audiences. There is, after all, a reason the film is being released by A24 rather than Warner Brothers. A Ghost Story is, much like Affleck's C, stuck somewhere in the middle of the cinematic universe, a beautiful film that should be seen by a wider audience but also an experimental and challenging film that, almost inevitably, will not be fully embraced by a wider audience. 

When C rises from his body and returns to his home, he inserts himself into the unaware presence of M. He is there, but he is like a scribbled note stuck in between the walls of the home. H sees Mara's M, her placid grief and expressive eyes practically piercing Andrew Droz Palermo's square, rounded lensing that turns everything that unfolds into the kind of old home movie that you watch over and over and over again. M's grief is palpable, Lowery's patience for it maddening yet appropriate whether that be the first time she pulls the bedsheets off their bed after C's death or an increasingly furious scene, already a bit famous on the web, where a single, long take finds M immersing herself in a pie that is the kind of scene that anyone who has ever experienced a significant, life-changing loss will understand with resulting quiet sobs. 

While there will be those who consider Lowery's A Ghost Story to be dripping in self importance, it is actually the fact that he avoids self importance that gives the film its impact. The film's Prognosticator (Will Oldham) waxes eloquently about many of the issues that bounce around the walls of A Ghost Story, faux enlightenment designed to the soothe the soul yet wafting rather ironically across the scene as C watches it all unfold. 

I couldn't help but laugh.

About midway through A Ghost Story there is a shift, an important one, and Lowery uses this shift well even if it does take the film in a direction that the audience may not be expecting. Cinema isn't always about the expected, instead sometimes finding its greatest moments in those places where the filmmaker detours and takes us on a new and exciting journey. While many said about Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk that it was a quiet film, it is much more true here as Lowery invites the silence of time and love and grief and longing to envelope us. When words are spoken, they are meaningful and significant and, yes, sometimes quietly funny. As a bit of a fun fact, watch for brief appearances from familiar names including the returning Kesha, dealing with her own life's ghosts, along with Jonny Mars as Oversharing Man. 

A Ghost Story isn't about any one thing. It's not just about love or grief or the passage of time or the universal consciousness. The film shifts from a simple realism to a more enlivened surrealism to a creative wonder all its own. It's a film that is flawed, perhaps intentionally, but it's in those flaws where we most identify with Lowery's immersive imaginings. 

There will be those who want A Ghost Story to have a deeper meaning. They will want the film to have those "Aha!" moments that guide us toward its higher purpose. 

Lowery doesn't cater to those wishes. In fact, I'd dare say he laughs at them. 

There are times when A Ghost Story is precisely the film that writer/director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) intends it to be, aiming not to be a masterpiece but to be a simple, meaningful cinematic journey simultaneously intimate yet universal, intensely thought-provoking and perversely funny. 

Then, there are the other times. These are the times when A Ghost Story begins to tiptoe toward that old Saturday Night Live skit "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy," though I get the sense that more often than not these moments are intentional even if they are maddening or derivative or pretentious or even downright silly. 

The cycle continues. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic 

    The Official Rating Guideline
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    • D-: .5 Star
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