Love has no use for time, and time can’t quite grasp love. It makes time look like a fool, to hell with rigid linear breakdown! Against the cosmos, the love one has for another can seem insignificant, despite the stubbornness of its existence and the willingness to indeed look stupid. We hold on when we shouldn’t; even death doesn’t slow it down. Although usually, it’s the still breathing, eating, and crying (loved ones that can’t let go, not the passed on, the ghosts). Perception, like time, shifts into odd angles when it comes to love.
A Ghost Story treats love as the constant in a world that will never stop changing. And, oh my does it make the constant a thing of beauty. It’s unseen at first but you feel the power of it, the vastness. The couple, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, are unnamed, we’re not even sure if they’re married or not, it doesn't really matter. We share moments of comfort, conflict, everyday-ness shot as if the camera was just waking up to a sun-dripped weekend morning in Spring. And then one day Affleck’s character droops lifeless in a smoking car wreck.
The kind-of secret is in the title. It’s a ghost story. A story of a ghost. And for the rest of the running time, we hang in the corners with the ghost. From its creation (resurrection?) in the hospital and a truly astounding sweeping shot (there are many more of those) as it walks across green fields of grass, it takes up residence in the house they own. With Mara’s character lingering as though a ghost as well. The initial comic effects of seeing a child’s depiction of a ghost walking around or barely moving disappear through patience, and, well, how does one distillate the all consuming nature, power, and futility of love through a literal blank sheet? Because that’s exactly the feel of the film.
It rewards patience—Rooney Mara eats pie for like three minutes in an unbroken, static take that is essentially the film version of Sideshow Bob hitting all the rakes—with an experience bordering on transcendent. The progress of time warping around the central, cemented figure of the ghost is ingenious and moving. Smooth moments that we wander through. There are long stretches of silence—an upshot of following a ghost around—but here the scenes are infused with a strange spirituality that must be close to what people feel when they’ve found some kind of god.
Moments where it does creak, such as a cynic laying out the entire ethos of an existential crisis is inverted by the mere presence of the ghost. It oddly keeps everything grounded. A haunting, endearing, pitiful, relatable presence that permeates the whole film. Lay the laurels at the feet of David Lowery. His Pete’s Dragon captured the intangible magic of childhood while Ain’t Them Body Saints reads less of a crime drama than a deep south love ballad given life on film. Yeah, sure, there’s a bit of Terrence Mallick that crept into my observations whilst watching it—and not just because they’re both from Texas. That vast auteur shadow doesn’t reach this far though. Lowery’s style might feel influenced on the fringes, but it’s anchored to a soulful style that promotes emotions and the relatable over whatever the hell Mallick is doing these days.
There are moments in A Ghost Story where words are inadequate, and when you step back, taking in the experience as whole—as the story billows out in a third act that leaves you thinking about the time you had the one true love and everything, EVERYTHING, that came with it to the point that you sad smile the whole way through and has you leave with bittersweet elation. I probably should have prefaced this review by saying don’t read it and go in as blind as possible. So I’ll end at the beginning.
Love has no use for time, and time can’t quite grasp love.