A Ghost Story Review

12 Jul

It’s easy to scoff at the central image of the film: an extremely rudimentary construction of a ghost via a white sheet and eyeholes. However, considering the weighty themes it stands in for–time, legacy, life, death, and love–it’s kind of appropriate how absurd of an image it is. There’s never going to be a perfect symbol that encapsulates all the messy beauty of life and the profound nothingness of death, the confusion and the fleeting joy and the sense that nothing matters and that everything matters. There’s never going to be a more fitting representation of complexity than this type of simplicity, and David Lowery shows us throughout the film that he understands that. There’s a humorous, self-aware bent to the whole situation. There are ghost subtitles. We actually watch paint dry. Rooney Mara eats a pie.

All of these images, however, also have a transcendental power to them, a yearning to grapple with the specificity of each of our lives in the context of an unfathomably larger state of existence. Andrew Droz Palermo’s 4:3 aspect ratio boxes us in, but there’s so much swirling around in that little box. There’s so much to be found in the unspoken that when those things actually become spoken, they don’t feel silly or pretentious; instead, they truly do feel like the existential ramblings of someone who has lived a life of, well, life. This is powerful, audacious filmmaking of the highest order, and the second half of the film is a tour de force of storytelling that ingeniously uses its premise to full effect. This is a film that understands the power of lingering when used right, that demonstrates a willingness to be silent as it watches its subjects navigate the endless boundaries of time. This is a film that finds intensity and intimacy in restraint.

There’s an aching, a loneliness, that hangs in the air as the ghost glides through empty fields and empty rooms. Look at it from afar. It’s serene. It’s haunting. Every blade of grass and every person who passes through eventually fades into nothingness. Every person you meet ultimately means nothing. Every accomplishment of yours is small and unimportant. You are invisible and alone and no one cares, and even if they do it’s only for a bit. Time moves on. That’s from afar. Zoom in a bit, and things will start to take shape. The note, the piano, the conversation, the person, the creation. The things that matter to you in that moment in that period of time, the things that according to your perspective can last forever. Then what follows is the history, the legacy, the things you leave behind in the spaces you inhabit, however briefly. Then…what comes next?


-The score is beautiful. Listen to the trailer song, “I Get Overwhelmed” by Dark Rooms. The scene during the film in which that plays is one of the most stunning scenes I’ve seen in a long, long time. I am floored.

Photo credit: A24


8 Responses to “A Ghost Story Review”

  1. Jay July 12, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

    Love your review. You’ve really got me amped up – I’m seeing it at a film festival on Friday.

    • polarbears16 July 12, 2017 at 10:49 pm #

      Thanks! Looking forward to your thoughts.

  2. Sean July 17, 2017 at 9:25 pm #

    You summed it up really well. This film has such a plodding pace but the pace feels necessary by the end. It shows as much as anything that being a ghost is not all scares, there is a lot of downtime in eternity! And that time (in the theatre as well as in the movie) provides a perfect opportunity to think about our place in this big, cold, universe. I found this movie strangely comforting in that regard. It made the universe seem slightly more cozy.

    • polarbears16 July 23, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

      Yes, definitely. That’s such a great point.

  3. Flemming Erik Carlson July 25, 2017 at 1:00 am #

    This is the best film I’ve seen in years! A true masterpiece. Visually and artistically fantastic. Long lingering shots in silence that kicks you in the guts. And how do you get feelings from an emotionless sheet that does convey emotions and moods? Brilliant. Sheer brilliance. I’ll be thinking about this film for a very long time.

    • polarbears16 July 29, 2017 at 12:22 am #

      So glad you enjoyed it! I completely agree, they got so much out of a pretty simple image.

  4. Flemming Erik Carlson July 25, 2017 at 1:10 am #

    I also wish you had reviewed my 2 favorites from last year, When A Monster Calls and Hacksaw Ridge!

    • polarbears16 July 29, 2017 at 12:23 am #

      Ah yes, saw both but never got around to reviewing. :/

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