A Ghost Story – Add Some Cosmic Dread to Your Next Campfire Tale

Faced with a decision I wouldn’t wish on anyone in our sheltered, sedentary 1st-world bubble, I opted for the emergency exit.

The weekend of September 29th rolled around, and although certainly not the worst for theatrical releases this year, I took a look at the box office offerings and saw before me an impasse with no desirable path to take. I found myself deciding between a Tom Cruise aviation movie completely unrelated to Top Gun with none of the 80’s camp and homoerotic undertones that allowed the Tom-Cat to soar into our hearts, and a studio remake/cash-grab of a forgotten and little beloved horror movie from the 90’s (American Made and Flatliners, respectively). I’ll admit I cheated a little by reading some reviews, thereby (I’ve got my 18th century writing wig on today) solidifying my preconceived biases and opting instead to pay a visit to my local stream for a relaxing day of sport fishing.

Hoping for much, but expecting little, I began to fish the stream for an acceptable trout dinner that could at least occupy some space in my stomach regardless of  how unsatisfying it may come to be. My focus and patience was soon rewarded, because to my great joy, I hooked a plump mackerel eager to fulfill its purpose in life by nourishing my body and mind. Now if you’ve taken a 6th grade English class then I hope by now you’ve realized I am not referring to a recent fishing trip, but rather I speak in metaphor (my thinking wig’s roots burrow deeper into the grey matter of my brain; a mystical talisman or parasitic organism in disguise, only father time shall reveal).

This mackerel I was so fortunate to wrangle, whispered to me the name “A Ghost Story”.

Alright, turns out the wig was a parasitic being capable of imitating inanimate objects so I had to burn the creature lest it multiply and eradicate humanity (a story for another day) so without my thinking wig, the metaphor has already begun to break down so I’ll abandon it now, and finally get into the review for what I think is a must see of 2017, A Ghost Story.

Casey Affleck (brother of Ben Affleck; no relation to the Aflac duck [that we know of]) and Rooney Mara (just google her, you’ve seen her a bunch of times before) play a couple in love, who’ve recently moved into a new home and have begun the cumbersome but rewarding process of renovating their new house. But before the 1st act can really even get going Casey is killed in a car accident, leaving Rooney heartbroken and left to grieve. But it turns out, his spirit still remains. Coming to life from underneath the sheet draped over his corpse at the hospital, Casey’s spirit makes the decision to bypass eternity and instead, return home to his wife, his love.

One of the indie darling’s out of Sundance, A Ghost Story, is a re-imagining of the classic bump in the night ghost tales of old, telling the haunted house story from the perspective of the ghost. But A Ghost Story is so much more than just that.

This film is a philosophical knockout punch, as we the audience are taken on a mesmerizing journey of lamentation and longing through the eyes of a voiceless and unseen (not to us but to the rest of the characters in the story) spirit taken form in the classic white sheet-ed figure that ghosts are often depicted as (goofily so) in cartoons. This silhouette can only pace about the home it now seems confined to, stalking his wife and those after her, watching the world around him march on in step with the inevitable passage of time. Every image is as equally sad as it is nightmarish. Moments of horror derived from existential dread.

This is a tragic and sorrowful story for our ghost, but in a way, a hopeful and uplifting one for the people he’s left to watch, passing through this home over the years. Observing those overcoming grief, building and raising families, and parties amongst friends displaying lasting relationships. But alas, our ghost is left only to watch, sometimes able to reach out, in love and rage. But it makes no matter because time presses on, as do all of us.

I know this is getting heavy. I’ll bring it back around and lighten the mood, don’t worry.

A Ghost Story is a haunting and beautiful film that, without spoilers, isn’t nearly the kind of bummer it may sound like it is. But it is a deep rumination on life, legacy, love, and eternity, that requires your attention and contemplation, especially during many of its long, lingering scenes that derive their impact from your participation in introspection.

This film stuck with me, and is still stuck with me, which is why I felt the need to review A Ghost Story, despite it being a small arthouse film, that unfortunately, the cynical side of me believes, few of you will ever watch. But you should; sometime down the road, not on wine and gossip night with the girls, but on one of those quiet, lonely nights in, to give your feeling organs a much needed workout (don’t be gross, or do, I can’t control your mind…yet).

Disclaimer: The philosophical lynch pin of this film is a sweeping monologue about life and existence, summarizing the themes of this story in a bit of an on-the-nose manner that while profound, is pretentious. Exaggerated all the more by the most Brooklyn-y Brooklyn-er to ever micro-brew a craft brew. I thought it worked, but mockery, depending on your taste and mood, is inevitable. Just wanted to take a moment to mitigate any liability I hold as the film’s recommend-er, lest I receive any mockery or possible interventions for perceived hipster-ism.

 

 

 

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