Not too long ago, Casey Affleck won an Oscar for playing a grieving man in Manchester by the Sea. In A Ghost Story, Affleck finds himself in a role that’s very different, and yet very similar. For starters, Affleck is the one who dies here. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. Affleck meets his untimely end within the first several minutes and the movie’s title should already be a dead giveaway. Anyhow, Affleck may be playing the dear departed this time around, but his character still must overcome the five stages of grief.
Affleck stars as C, a musician who looses his life in a car accident. He comes back as a ghost, but not of the Patrick Swayze variety. This one is more like something out of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, donning a white sheet with two eyeholes. An image that silly might sound like something out of a satire and A Ghost Story does have moments of dark comedy. At the same time, however, the film treats C’s death with the gravitas it deserves. All the while, Affleck manages to give a surprisingly emotional performance, despite being concealed under a sheet for most of the runtime.
Of course the film is far from a one-man show. Rooney Mara plays M, C’s widowed wife. Immediately after his body is identified, C returns to the rustic home he shared with M. While M’s by no means happy that her husband is dead, she isn’t grieving how C expected. Rather than being a river of tears, M falls into a sedated state as she internally wrestlers with the fact that C is gone. Like Affleck, Mara is given little dialog to work with, but still captures all the turmoil of a person confronted with the sudden shock of losing somebody.
After coming to terms with C’s passing, it’s only a matter of time until M starts dating again and sells their house. C, on the other hand, refuses to move on. He becomes especially obsessed with a message M left behind in one of the walls. Although C is unable to get to it, he’s determined to find some form of closure, no matter how long it takes. C’s journey from denial to acceptance is powerfully portrayed through visuals, giving A Ghost Story the essence of a silent picture. Of course there is a little psychoanalysis thrown in for good measure.
Granted, David Lowery’s film isn’t necessarily for everybody. While it’s only 92 minutes, there are certain scenes some audiences are going to find relentlessly slow. There’s a particular sequence where M eats a pie for several minutes, which is bound to inspire a few walkouts. However, if movies like The Tree of Life spoke to you on a deep level, you’ll form a similar connection to A Ghost Story. Even if it can tax your patience on occasion, the experience on the whole is profound, surreal, and utterly unique. As we reach the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re reminded that everybody deals with loss in their own way, be they living or dead.