Film of the Week

A Ghost StoryI said a couple of weeks ago that I couldn't imagine a film knocking Dunkirk off the top of my 2017 list any time soon. Then I saw A Ghost Story. Turns out I am no Nostradamus.

A Ghost Story is about the numerous tiny moments that make up a life and the eternity of time that exists around these lives. It opens with a couple, M and C, played by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, moving into a new home and trying to find their feet there. But soon after, he is killed, leaving her to rebuild her life without him. Except he never really leaves. Instead, wrapped in a bedsheet with eyeholes like the naffest Halloween costume, C returns to the home, watching his wife grieve without being able to help her or interact with her at all. It's beautiful and sad, and utterly impossible to take your eyes off.

The visuals of the film are so striking that images from it have haunted me since I left the cinema. Casey Affleck in a sheet should be funny, not poignant, but the cinematography is such that his (literally) haunting presence has a strange grandeur. As he swoops through hospital corridors or across the field back to his old home, the reason for his continued presence becomes apparent: it is not just the living who grieve, the dead feel the loss too. My heart broke at this point, and I haven't quite put it together since.

A Ghost Story continues in the way that you would expect for the next forty-odd minutes, before reaching the satisfactory endpoint. Except it's not the end: we have a whole new phase to go through. One of the odd features of the story is that you start to understand where it's going, start to realise how the story will resolve, but it's satisfying rather than frustrating: there's a sense that everything is falling into place exactly as it should. You realise how the ending will play out because it is the only way that it could play out. The rightness of it is almost painful. And the way that ties in with the themes becomes apparent too, but not much more can be said about that without detracting from the experience of watching it.

This is a love story as much as a ghost story, but it's also a meditation on the passing of time and the significance of our short lives within it. It might undermine the idea of our greater significance, but it does a wonderful job of extolling the virtues of the small moments in our lives, of valuing being over doing. Like all the best ghost stories, this is a perfectly-crafted masterpiece that stays with you long after it has finished. I'm not sure I'll ever be without C's ghost again.


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