A Ghost Story
To break the art-house film you need only mock the following:
- Doorway Metaphors
- Non-linear/esoteric narrative
- Sparse dialogue.
- Characters dawdling aimlessly
- Long held static shots of unremarkable activity
- Stiff blocking
- Director/Writer/Editors editing
- Transcendence evoked by timelapses of the stars
- Full spectrum time to evoke sweeping, cosmic, platitudes.
A Ghost Story, filmed with a Listerine soaked gauze over the lens, has all that and then some-big-blemishes-to-call-its-own. But, and it’s a big but (ha), despite the easy pickings A Ghost Story ascends it. Just like that, it’s elevated. Somehow... someway... it is special, grand, unique, and untouchable. Let me borrow an aphorism from the other end of the gamut (Hollywood): I fell in love with A Ghost Story, not in spite of, but because of, all its imperfections.
We’ll start on those. The big one, an exhaustive non-sequitur preached (literally) by some guy at a mid-aged hipster party, threatens to dismantle everything ‘Ghost Story’ already translates on its own visually. It’s baffling that Lowery felt the need to undermine his near-silent visual eloquence through an elocuting babbler. Yet he executes the act of insecurity in a manner of sheer confidence with a technique that’ll fool you into buying its necessity. Kubrick stated:
“If you can talk brilliantly about a problem, it can create the consoling illusion that it has been mastered.”
Lowery talks brilliantly through technique and has crafted such an illusion of mastery that its weaknesses are taken for heart. The sum of its peaks and vulnerabilities result in a one of a kind gestalt, something inexplicably moving. A Ghost Story is not the esoteric, experimental, (laughably labelled alienating) art film soft critics have dubbed it. There’s a blatant narrative and boldly defined throughline. It follows the trajectory of its own logic and never deviates.
Neither does it share those compositions of stoic symmetry. A Ghost Story has a 1.37 Aspect Ratio that’s too tight to frame its characters small; faces fill the frame. These people need no declaration of love, it’s felt in the architecture of a few evocative images. That the sheeted ghost of the late lover (referred to as C in the credits) still provokes potent emotional reactions - despite its child's-play design- speaks to the power of Lowery’s enticement.
These vulnerabilities in A Ghost Story’s design are not just admirable flaws, they’re appropriate ones. A little modesty befits the film’s suggestion that to accept our end we must also accept the finite nature of the dense trail we try to leave behind. A song crafted by C reverberates through all ends of time, hummed by a pilgrim child and listened to by his lover (referred to as M) before and after his passing. His ghost’s longing survives beyond that. He won’t let go. He pries for the letter M left in a crack of the house before moving out and moving on. When will he accept an end?
M moves. She hopped between homes as a kid and never stopped. She finds herself with C who roots her. She wants to keep moving. C appreciates the history they’ve made at this home and the history made before them. He needs to stay and he can hardly articulate why. His ghost will rush home as soon as it wakes and M will move out as soon as she’s coped.
There’s something happening here that doesn’t happen often, a skepticism of the planted, history appreciating, homebody and an admiration of the agile home skipper. Although it’s critical, Lowery loves them both. It resonates. I sense a confessional...
How ironic that A Ghost Story will live long past its makers.
A Ghost Story
There’s irony in the fact that ‘A Ghost Story’ will live long past its makers.