” I don’t believe in the afterlife, but I do believe in ghosts.”- David Lowery, director of Sundance 2017 sensation, “A Ghost Story.”
A white sheet. A pair of safety scissors. That’s all you need to create a decidedly un-bougie ghost costume. The filmmakers behind “A Ghost Story” just proved it’s all they need to create some of the most resonant images of Sundance 2017. (Alright, if you want to get technical about it, Casey Affleck’s evocative ghost get-up (pictured above) went through many iterations and involved helmets. This isn’t an exposé.) The point is, like many great films, “A Ghost Story” takes a familiar cultural idea that white-sheeted ghosts stay behind to resolve unfinished business, and runs with it. This film runs until its damn feet lift off the ground and its soaring self burns through the stratosphere. It’s that good.
What does that mean? Its plot is best experienced with little foreknowledge, so I’ll compare it to other films with a similar spirit of pushing the premise. “Toy Story” takes the idea that childhood toys are pivotal companions and runs with it until toys are a sincere metaphor for parenting and subsuming your ego to the quieter mission of raising someone else. Push that premise! “Swiss Army Man” sprints with fart jokes until they speak achingly to body shame and how cultural norms cause trauma. Make it weird! “Under the Skin” takes the tropes of an exotic, alien seductress on a jog, until it reaches the finish line of telling a sci-fi story about modern womanhood and the limits and necessity of empathy. Yeah! Sorry for the exclamations, but this renewing of perspective on old ideas is what storytelling is all about. Nothing is new and everything old is fair game. There’s a high level of audacity to the film. It’s silly, it’s sophisticated, and it’s soulful.
The above got a little pretentious, but all the running similes are trying to say is that “A Ghost Story” challenges itself. It constantly asks, what else can a ghost story say, what else can a ghost story mean? After all, ghost stories are some of the oldest, most well-trodden in the books. By now, you’d probably like to know the specifics of this one. The bare bones are that C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) are a normal, affectionate couple. M is ready to move from their quiet, country home. C is not. At night, C and M lay in bed intimately, noses touching, at peace. One day, C dies in a car accident. M lives. C becomes a ghost.
“A Ghost Story” challenges itself. It constantly asks, what else can a ghost story say, what else can a ghost story mean?
The rest of the film largely follows ghost-C, as he watches M, and the world, surge onwards. M searches for new love. Various residents move into the space that was once C and M’s home, oblivious to its history of loss. C lashes out with his ghostly abilities and the house earns a reputation for being haunted. All the while, C peers out of his eye holes, waiting for the chance to reclaim, just for a moment, the way it felt to be alive and seen and loved.
It’s awesome. I can’t wait for more people to join in the conversation on this one. This will be a treasure trove for film lovers who like to take deep dives into images and motifs. There are loads going on, including the journey of the white sheets as a prop, from its key role in C and M’s marriage to its inescapability as C’s ghostly shroud. Luckily, we’ll all get the chance to talk these matters over– the film has been picked up by distributor A24, the intrepid company behind releasing “Moonlight,” “Room,” “The Witch,” “The Lobster,” and many more. No company is better at injecting bizarre, bold films into our cultural bloodstream, and “A Ghost Story” fully belongs in its catalogue. So, ready yourselves for the release of a film that pushes its possibilities to infinity. And beyond.
Note: It’s unfortunate that this tag feels necessary, but filmgoers should be aware of the sexual misconduct accusations against “A Ghost Story” star, Casey Affleck. The allegations by two women in 2010 were resolved out of court and can be read about more fully in this NY Mag report. While Cinemacy has no particular insight into this specific case, or into Affleck’s potential guilt or innocence, in general, we encourage industry professionals and audiences to stand against abusive behavior when it arises in celebrity circles. Stardom is not consent. Consent is consent.