When directors take on projects, it is always a gamble on their careers. They can either continue to implement their established styles to match the script or take a different approach altogether. When David Lowery took on A Ghost Story, it was a risk that could make him a joke in the industry. However, Lowery’s gamble paid off as the film received rave reviews and praises.
Much like the title implies, A Ghost Story revolves around a ghost as it makes its way through the afterlife. It is a supernatural drama film that reunites Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara from Lowery’s film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. A Ghost Story is unlike any film seen today as Affleck and Mara’s characters are never actually introduced but credited as C and M, respectively.
C is a musician who lives with his wife M in a small house. Their lives are changed when C is killed outside their home in a car accident. C awakens as an unseen ghost that goes about the house. Throughout the film, the ghost is seen wandering around his old home. He watches as his wife copes with his death. When she eventually moves out, the ghost chooses to remain to search for a note she left within a gap in the house.
People move in and out of the house as the ghost watches on. Eventually, the house gets taken apart and replaced with an office building. Here the typical rule of time bends as the ghost gets taken from the future to the past, watching a family of settlers in the area that would later become his home. The ghost watches as he eventually reaches the days before his accident.
A Ghost Story is a film that goes beyond the conventional standards of Hollywood from a technical and storytelling perspective. Whereas most films are shot with a wide aspect ratio, A Ghost Story diverges from the norm and maintains a 1.33:1 ratio. Unlike other ghost movies, Affleck’s character does not retain his physical form but instead takes on the child-like costume of a white sheet with black holes.
Director David Lowery shared that he wanted to tackle mortality when he underwent an existential crisis. “I felt everything was meaningless,” he confessed. Lowery cited Kathryn Schulz’s Pulitzer-prize winning article as the source of inspiration, sparking fear in him. The article tackles potential natural disasters capable of wiping out humanity, and the subject was reflected in the film when a character discusses the inevitable doom of humankind. The director also revealed that he designed the ghosts exactly like how he envisioned one as a primordial miasm. Despite its comical look, the decision to break away from the norm proved to be beneficial. Lowery wanted to utilize his ghost character to become a tool to tell a story.
A Ghost Story may be David Lowery’s cathartic interpretation of the meaninglessness of life, but it also embodies the grief of heartbreak and closure. The scene that perfectly captures its spirits can be seen when Rooney Mara’s character takes up four whole minutes to eat a pie. Although the audience complains about how it drags out, those four minutes reflect that same feeling of emptiness that people go through when coping with the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship. The ghost’s actions as an entity that lingers to seek closure can be seen every day. People continue to go unnoticed as they search for closure.