Occasionally we come across a film that deserves to be admired for a variety of reasons but still cannot be recommended as a “good movie.” For simplicity’s sake, this article’s definition of a “good movie” is a film that can be recommended to a specific audience group who will appreciate the experience it provides. By this definition, a terrible retro B-horror flick could still be called a “good movie” for the delightful experience it provides to fans of that genre. But how can one classify a movie that is highly polished, very artistic, clever, and is exactly the movie the filmmaker wanted to create, but will appeal to virtually no audiences? Welcome to “A Ghost Story.”
In this story of ethereal existentialism, a recently deceased man (Casey Affleck) haunts the home he shared with his wife (Rooney Mara) draped in the hospital sheet he died under. The ghost rarely does much except existing in meticulously framed shots watching her and the lives of others unfold around him. Often, time drags on with nothing happening, wearing on the audience’s patience. This is likely by design, as we unconsciously being to identify with the spirit. Our longing to have some form of interaction and our simmering anger over time wasted… Fortunately for them, the dead seem to have little concept of time and in random spurts, we are thrust decades (or more) into the future. Eventually, like an oversized bed sheet after a night of insomnia, the story begins to wrap back upon itself. After what seems like an eternity, the story ends abruptly.
“A Ghost Story” deserves to be called an experience in lieu of a movie. The plot is virtually non-existent. The main characters aren’t particularly likable. And there doesn’t seem to be any logic to the Ghost’s actions. The film’s framing and blocking are also very unique and far more suited to a photography book or slide show. In fact, with the 4:3 aspect ratio, complete with rounded corners, it seems a slideshow or View-master Reel look is exactly what Writer/Director David Lowery was going for.
So much attention was paid to the look of each shot and creating this haunting experience that perhaps Lowery forgot to give audiences a reason to sit through 90 minutes of literal purgatory? The big question is WHY?, but again, maybe that was his (misguided) artistic intent. In the latter half of the film, there is a long-winded monolog during a house party in which an incredibly obnoxious character (Will Oldham) rambles off college dropout philosophy on why nothing really matters. It’s so jarring compared to the rest of the film that it stains the entire movie with an ugly tint of out-of-touch self-indulgence. Lowery apparently has something he needs to say to the world but doesn’t seem to understand what it is or how to do it.