Chicago Critics Film Festival 2017: A Ghost Story
By Andrea Thompson
We are all going to die, and there isn't a thing we can do about it. How we react to this determines much of the course of our lives and what kind of person we become. If you are a person of privilege accustomed to overcoming obstacles and working yourself into a position of greater privilege, as director David Lowery clearly is, you will have an especially hard time coping with this, because there is no simply no way to triumph over an obstacle so final and unavoidable. But the great thing about art, particularly “A Ghost Story,” is that it can transcend even its central conceit and be a profoundly moving meditation on life and become the best film ever about a guy (Casey Affleck) who spends all his time under a sheet. Then again, he only ends up there after he dies, so it's hard to find it funny. Clinging to life and unable to move on, he returns to his home to try to comfort his grief-stricken wife (Rooney Mara), only to find himself unable to make any impact on a world he is no longer a part of. Slowly, his ties to her and the life he left behind begin to fray, and he begins a journey through time and space to contemplate his place in the world and his attachment to one tiny slice of it. “A Ghost Story” could be even more profoundly moving if its views on life weren't too similar to its views of the afterlife. One character essentially states that life is meaningless because we and everyone we know will die, and everything we ever created, every book, song, and symphony, will someday perish with an uncaring universe. But at a certain point, we must realize that the point is the book, or the song, or the music. The fact that everything ends should not keep us from living, thus making us truly tragic even before our time is up. To its credit, “A Ghost Story” recognizes that attachments and our need for meaning is unavoidable. But this ghost doesn't seem very alive even before he dies, and the film seems to find solace in a lusher, greener past, with a pessimistic view of our present and future rife with cold technological advances. It also doesn't help that when a Spanish-speaking single mother and her young children move in to the house after his wife departs, they are not given subtitles, thus robbing them of much of their ability to make a similar case a white (male) character makes about life's meaning, or lack of it. But the rest of “A Ghost Story” is such a creatively successful vision, full of heartbreak and pain even though we can't see the face or even the eyes of our main character during most of the film. It may be full of missteps, but David Lowery manages to pack quite a bit of substance into a style of hipster filmmaking very uninterested in catering to basic audience demands. Such uniqueness combined with such skill is nearly impossible to resist.