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A Ghost Story (2017)

Simon Boccanegra
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A musician (Oscar® winner Casey Affleck) and his wife (Oscar® nominee Rooney Mara) note strange sounds and sights in the small Texas house from which they plan to move. Will Oldham and music star Kesha are among those searching for answers in this "meditative poem about the enormity of time...strange, thrilling, and wholly original" (Vanity Fair) from writer/director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon).

Anyone who has seen a trailer or read anything about the film knows that the leading man's character dies early on and spends most of the movie as the most visually clichéd ghost imaginable: a sheet with eye holes. (Except for some retouches with a double, it reportedly really was Affleck under there.) This is a daring choice, and not the only one the film makes. The Affleck and Mara characters are never even named; they are "C" and "M" respectively. Their time together in the early scenes thus is very important, and Affleck and Mara, who were the leads of one of the director's prior films, appear very comfortable with each other and create an easy intimacy and a suggestion of history. A few flashbacks give us additional information about their relationship, including their major point of conflict.  

Post death, the "C" ghost returns to his old home, where "M" is in mourning, and he does the things you're expecting him to do and others you may not be. But "M's" time on this land is limited; "C" could roam it for eternity, as things change around him. It's as if Terrence Malick (one of Lowery's obvious influences) had taken charge of Ghost or The Sixth Sense, thrown out the script, and gone wild with the dreamy metaphysical ruminations. But Lowery is more concise than Malick would have been. A ghost-to-ghost encounter between "C" and another watchful spirit in an adjacent house is as sad a thing as I've ever seen in a movie.  

Both leads give evocative and touching performances within severe strictures. Affleck has to do a lot just with his posture and the speed of his movements under that sheet, and Mara has no one to play off of most of the time, as "M" is oblivious to "C's" presence. "M's" sinking to the floor and grief-eating an entire pie, as "C" looks on, has become a much-discussed scene.   

It's a very quiet movie. There is about a 20-minute stretch without a single word being spoken, and when the silence is broken, it's just with one banal line on the phone. As if to make up for it, there is a several-minute monologue on the meaning of existence from a minor character at about the film's three-quarters mark. This was my least favorite part of the film, but the actor in that role (identified in the credits as "The Prognosticator") does nail the kind of tipsy know-it-all we've all encountered at parties, and perhaps fled.  

With the sparseness of words and reliance on imagery, the musical score becomes very important, and Daniel Hart does stunning work in that department. If you see the film, listen especially for the music cue accompanying "M" behind the wheel of her car. Hart also composed "I Get Overwhelmed," the haunting electronic ballad that "C" writes for "M." (That isn't really Affleck singing it.)  

The reported budget was $100,000. That's less than it cost to make Halloween in 1978 dollars! But it's the best-looking $100,000 film imaginable. Lowery apparently got some deep discounts from friends at a visual-effects company with whom he had collaborated on Pete's Dragon for Disney. His famous leading actors obviously liked him and trusted him to come up with something worth their time; they cannot have made this for the money or for a dearth of more profitable offers.   

This is one of those movies you know a lot of people are never going to see, and even some of those who do see it will not be able to get into it; but if you are receptive to what it tries to do, it may claim a share of your heart. In that sense, it's the definition of a cult film in the making. It runs a little under 90 minutes, so I was able to see it twice within a rental period. I went from liking it but not being sure how much, to loving it.  

Edited by Simon Boccanegra
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