"A Ghost Story" Review

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Filmmakers often like to explore the complex topic of the true meaning of life. Recent dramas on the subject include Terrence Malick's overly-ambitious "The Tree of Life" and the dry, yet complex sci-fi saga "Arrival". Elements of those films and others (and a touch of "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!") are all a part of "A Ghost Story", a vivid, mysterious new indie.

This is a difficult movie in which to lose yourself. It's also challenging to interpret - at least while experiencing it. Clearly director David Lowrey ("Ain't Them Bodies Saints" and last year's "Pete's Dragon") wanted audiences to take it all in, at a distance, and then think about it all later. For that dynamic to happen, a film has to be worth the effort. Lowrey fills "A Ghost Story" with images and techniques to keep you interested, and more than a little on-edge.

You wonder why certain things are happening. You question why the director chose to hold shots at the end of several scenes well beyond what would be considered normal. And then there's the 5-minute scene (with only one edit) of Rooney Mara eating practically an entire pie. It's tough to say what was more uncomfortable - her doing it or me watching it.

However, leaving the theater, throughout the rest of the day and into the next, "A Ghost Story" stayed with me, forcing me to wrestle with what Lowrey (who also wrote the screenplay) was trying to say with his bizarre tale of love, loss and the afterlife.

As for the plot, all you need to know going in is that Casey Affleck and Mara play a husband and wife, living together in a comfortably-aged rural house. The "ghost" in the title refers to one of the two characters, who after death, returns to the home to check on the other.

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in "A Ghost Story"
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in "A Ghost Story"

To say "A Ghost Story" isn't dialogue-driven would be one of the understatements of the movie year. There are long stretches of silence, broken by the occasional confrontational scene, including a party in which one member loudly expresses his opinion on the future of humanity. And, of course, the ghost has to make itself every known every once in awhile.

One of the film's strongest elements is its score. Composer Daniel Hart (who has frequently collaborated with Lowrey) provides a perfectly haunting mood. The main song "I Get Overwhelmed", which Hart performs with his band Dark Rooms, is an exact fit. That melody still hasn't escaped my mind.

Narrative is where "A Ghost Story" is its most intriguing. The film moves through time quickly - forward and backward. Lowrey often stages one shot in a certain time period or month of the year - and then swiftly cuts to a completely different one. It's as if time, as we currently know it, has no meaning (which may just be the idea). Since the timeline is fractured in multiple ways, it's important to pay attention. Again, you may not understand everything as it unfolds (I'm still not sure about some of it), but eventually themes and messages will appear.

"A Ghost Story" is spiritual, in the most literal sense, and it tackles some heavy subjects. Does it provide all the answers to life's key mysteries? No. But that's not the point. Give it a chance, and I promise, it will either work on you and for you - or it won't. Either way, it will definitely visit you again...the next time you eat pie.

Jackson Murphy: Emmy Award-winning Film Critic / Entertainment Reporter. Broadcast Film Critics Assoc. (@CriticsChoice), SAG-AFTRA (@SAGAwards)