If you can get past the, at times, glacially slow pacing with which it tells its tale, A Ghost Story is one of the most thoughtful and emotional movies of 2017. Some people will absolutely hate it—especially if you’re someone who derides the existence of “artsy” movies—but those who will appreciate it are likely to love it immensely. It’s unlikely to be a movie on which someone is a little bit pregnant. You’re either in or you’re not; there’s no room for middle ground.
As one might guess from the title, A Ghost Story tells the tale of a ghost. It belongs to a character played by Casey Affleck, who dies a couple of scenes into the film and comes back to earth as a ghost, here represented by a man in a bed sheet with a couple of holes cut out for eyes. He returns to his home, watches time pass … and that’s pretty much the entire movie. He occasionally is able to—or chooses to—interact with the environment, but most of the time just stands there, a silent, sad observer as events in the home unfold. His wife (Rooney Mara) mourns him, eventually moves on, other occupants inhabit the house—and he just stands there.
What results is a meditative mood piece on love, loss, legacy, time, and closure. It’s filled with long takes, most of which feature little-to-no dialogue, and events often unfold slowly and in full. A scene relatively early on sees our ghost protagonist watch his wife eat an entire pie. It’s shown to us in two takes, and we watch the entire thing. It’s devastating. But it also goes on for something like five minutes, and it’s nothing more than what I just described. Some will be moved and fascinated by that; others repulsed or bored.
There’s a sadness, a melancholy, that permeates almost every frame of A Ghost Story. While it’s not a horror movie, it’s something that will, pardon the pun, haunt you for days to come, assuming you’re open to the concept. Its slow pace permits lots of time for thought and reflection, and once it ends and you get home, you may find yourself in a far more emotional state than you thought you would be. It has that kind of power.
It’ll be a shock if A Ghost Story doesn’t wind up being one of my top films of 2017.
The best way I could describe A Ghost Story would be to say that it’s like the most effective parts of Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life, but distilled down to 90 minutes and given additional intellectual, thematic, and emotional depth. The cinematography is different—A Ghost Story, while beautiful, is shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio that’s intentionally claustrophobic, unlike the widescreen meandering of a Malick film—but I think it’s more effective. It serves more of a purpose, even if it doesn’t produce as many pretty pictures.
With that said, A Ghost Story has just as many, if not more, memorable moments than something like The Tree of Life. I already mentioned the pie scene, but there are so many others scattered throughout. A nihilistic rant midway through is simply amazing (the scene that follows is great, too), and the sequences in which large segments of time pass quickly are edited and staged so well that you can’t help but stop and applaud. It’s just amazing minimalistic storytelling and filmmaking.
It’s kind of amazing what Casey Affleck is able to do in A Ghost Story. He has to act from underneath a bed sheet for the majority of his screen time, and he somehow is able to craft one of the saddest, most sympathetic characters of Cinema 2017. Rooney Mara has to, well, let’s just say it’s a good physical and emotional performance and move on. The supporting cast isn’t given a whole lot of time on-screen, but they still manage to create interesting enough characters for us to observe.
It’ll be a shock if A Ghost Story doesn’t wind up being one of my top films of 2017. This is a thoughtful, emotional, and intelligent take on love, loss, legacy, death, and time. It’s a slow-paced film that gives you lots of opportunities to think and reflect, and while it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, if you think it’ll be yours there’s a good chance that you’ll really fall in love with it. A Ghost Story is truly fantastic cinema.
Conclusion: A Ghost Story is amazing.
Recommendation: If A Ghost Story sounds like something you’d appreciate, do yourself a favor and check it out as soon as possible.