A Ghost Story

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Despite all the negativity many associated with 2016, and rightly so, it brought a special gift with it that I have not stopped embracing. I still talk about Manchester by the Sea, I'll probably endlessly sing this film's praises. Since seeing Manchester by the Sea five times in theatres, I decided to check out more from its writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. I also began to eagerly anticipate Casey Affleck's next project. I was even more excited when I read about A Ghost Story. When I read about this modest film tackling the biggest issues of existence and life's unanswered questions, I did the kind of happy dance only a student of philosophy would do. The 2017 film directed by David Lowry promised to be a simplistic yet grand look at love and loss, and how to endure when we lose someone prematurely. Everything about it sounded right up my alley, I even traveled nearly two hours away to be able to see it so to say I was invested would be an understatement. Needless to say, I obviously took a wrong turn, because I didn't see A Ghost Story fulfill what it promised, nor did the film speak to me in an impactful way. I experienced a complete lack of emotion as the lights came back on in the empty theatre and was left pondering, not the meaning of existence or its meaninglessness, but just how self-important a film could appear without ever actualizing its vision.

C (Casey Affleck) is killed in an automobile accident. Unable to leave behind his love M (Rooney Mara) he hovers between the living and the dead, maintaining some level of existence as a ghost, white sheet and all. He witnesses M readjust to her life of day-to-day menial activities, and even witnesses her possibly move on in her love life with another person. Desperate to maintain a connection with her, he spends his time trying to obtain a personally meaningful piece of her that she left behind in the house they shared together. As he attempts to recover the last piece of his love he has access to, he sees the world change as he is catapulted through the years. Not only does the ghost see far into the future, but he sees far into the past, as well, and is shown the family responsible for the first fence post put in on the land where his house would eventually be built. An exploration on the grandiose scale of the world often ignored by our own self-interest, A Ghost Story attempts to construct a fresh look using many borrowed pieces from philosophy and literature that never quite materializes.

Few things make me happier, cinematically than a "little film that could". A minimalist story with modest sets and sparse dialogue is almost certain to endear itself to me. I should have loved A Ghost Story. There is only one scene in which we see more than three people onscreen together and one of the main characters is dead throughout most of the film's runtime, yet, the film still fails to achieve its self-professed "smallness". Perhaps my main gripe about the film's alleged simplicity lies in the heavy-handed way it delivers its message. There is not a single bit of this film that gives the audience enough tools to arrive at the desired conclusion on their own. Instead of subtlety, David Lowry presents images and statements that drive home his message hand-over-fist. I get it, and I got it about 30 minutes into the movie that life is meaningless and much greater than our individual lives that most people remain focused on throughout their day. I didn't need a stroll through the past or to be jolted into the future to understand that there are more people than me in the world and we're all going to die. That lesson is one that I would have much rather experienced in a philosophy course than to see in a film using such a blatant method. Granted, I minored in philosophy during my undergrad so these are themes I consider often, but the change in pace the film underwent switching from its initial egoism bent to its collectivism was disengaging and disingenuous. It seems as though the film is attempting to make a grand philosophical statement while maintaining an infantile view on life and its meaning. I also have an aversion to stylistic decisions that don't seem to serve a purpose. In A Ghost Story, the aspect ratio chosen seems to only exist as a self-serving gesture meant to remind the audience that it is an art film. A Ghost Story hardly treads new ground, as it promised, and left me in a cold emotionless state. A technical achievement, A Ghost Story would have left me far less angry if that was all it wanted to be, but the intellectualism it attempts while showing no regard for the intelligence of the audience sours me on its product completely.

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