Whist watching A Ghost Story, I was reminded of a film from Thailand called Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. In a way, the two share a similar outlook on legacy after life and both use very silly appearance of spirits to make the film more tantalising. As mysterious as A Ghost Story is, the moral message is perfectly clear and it doesn’t rely on an excessive amount of dialogue to tell you that. A Ghost Story is a director’s vision which had the options of either succeeding or failing but that didn’t matter because the originality of the story was richer that the money it could make.
The first thing you will notice is the films choice of framing. The entire film is shot on a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, very much unlike any other film I’ve seen. This aspect ratio creates an intimacy with the characters (Casey Affleck & Rooney Mara). Despite never knowing their names, the audience can still understand the amount of love they have for one another. To add to the mystery of the film, although we feel intimate in this aspect ratio, the films use of long shots makes the locations feel much more spacious and open. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo must have bent time and space to achieve openness in a tight frame and should be noted for the films incredible look.
Speaking of which, Time place a crucial role in the films chain of events. Since the film is partially about remembrance, time in the film in variety of ways, whether it be the ghost waiting patiently or to step back in time itself for the ghost to achieve an epiphany. Much like the ghost, the audience witnesses the play on time through observation, actions speak louder than words is screenwriting 101 and director/writer David Lowery realises the importance of watching a film rather than telling it how it is, a fine example of visual storytelling apart from one scene where there is a heavy amount of philosophical dialogue which is probably the one blemish on the films consistency.
I found that the colouring of A Ghost Story stuck with the paranormal side of the story. There is a lot of bluish, slight sombre look that compensates character depression. Also, the films soft focus fits well with the very easy ghost sheet costume Casey Affleck must wear. Let’s talk more about the costume and why it deserves an award for best costume design, even though anyone could create their own with ease. You’ve heard the phrase if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, well the typical image of a ghost has since become cartoonish and kooky, but what remained locked away is the representation of said image. I believe the filmmakers realised the locked away potential of this look and were very careful as this could have easily looked like something from Scooby-Doo.
People will accuse this film of lingering on a shot too long. For instance, there is an entire scene showing Rooney Mara’s character eating a pie while the ghost looks on, that’s all there is in that scene, however in this very long time, we get to see the grief inside her character grow as her eating become more disordered until she is sick. A Ghost Story isn’t afraid to lets its audience stare at a single shot for a long time but without it I don’t think the emotion would have been captured as well if it had been edited otherwise. I will admit on David Lowery’s behalf that the films use of subtitles was interesting and at times funny. Watching how the ghost communicated using as simple body language as waving got a few laughs from the audience
I do feel that there was one scene that should have been included and that was the actual death of Casey Affleck’s character witnessed by the ghost. Although they do give us the aftermath, because of the screenplay’s attention to events, it feels like a big gaping hole of information that could have been worked with, but admittedly, this is the only moment in the film where audience curiosity is left hanging.
Those who are open to a film emotionally affect them will feel the emotional gravitas of A Ghost Story, it is one of the most hard-hitting, powerful films this year and it manages to do this through unique cinematography style and display. Not only that but all the emotion is partially responsible from believable, realistic performances from Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. However, unlike many film that have come out this summer, A Ghost Story doesn’t rely on solid performance to get into critic’s good books. It has already done that through fantastic storytelling weight and presentation.
The fact that A Ghost Story was made with a budget of only $100,000 and is that emotionally impactful, while films made with millions struggle to even reach their audience is proof enough that narrative originality will always triumph over rinse and repeat stories.