The Best Films of the Decade: #3. A Ghost Story (2017)

| January 8, 2020
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The old decade is gone and, with that, I am looking back at the 10 best films of the 2010s. Today, my #3 choice!

If you see enough movies, you will eventually find one that you imagine was made just for you.  David Lowery’s A Ghost Story feels like it was made just for me.  It’s the kind of fantasy that my brain might dredge up when I am driving and don’t feel like listening to the radio or when I’m performing a menial task. It is the kind of dreamy, stream-of-consciousness narrative that invites you to take a journey. You are involved rather than passive.

I love movies like this, movies that are illusive enough that they invite me into a game of intellectual metaphysical hopscotch.  It is the kind of experience that is so engaging that I am still playing the game three years later.  Mercifully, it is also the kind of movie that keeps me going; after thousands of movies, years after year that are vacuous, timid, indecipherable and aspire to nothing, here is a movie that reminds me that the art of the cinema is not dead.

A Ghost Story takes chances and reveals creative decisions that could, in other hands, have been a laughable disaster.  It deals with the most common and yet elusive of human experience: death, yet the spaces of the film are so sparse that the two main characters don’t even have proper names. They are a young married couple credited as ‘C’ (played by Casey Affleck) and ‘R’ (played by Rooney Mara). The couple buys a small house in a wayward suburb and shortly after he dies in a car accident. Soon, he rises from the slab in the morgue draped in the white sheet with eye holes that he will wear for the rest of eternity, looking like something out of a child’s Halloween decoration.  He never says a word, only observing the slow-going tally of life happening around him.

Returning to his home, he witnesses the sometimes unhealthy grieving process of his widow who cannot see or hear him. Worse, he stays around long enough to watch her pick up the pieces and move on with her life. When she sells the place and moves on, he is left there in the empty space of that house . . . for the next one hundred billion years!

What happens for the rest of the film has to be seen to be believed. Often the forward motion is rational, as when he watches new owners take up residency in the home. Other times, it’s a head-scratcher as when he realizes that his small suburb is becoming an urban landscape that would be comfortable in Blade Runner.

What is so amazing about this story is that Lowery doesn’t want to shore it up in one place. He keeps going long after one might expect, so at a certain point we’re not sure where the movie is going and at one point, not even sure what is happening.

When I saw A Ghost Story at The Sidewalk Film Festival in 2017, I remember experiencing a kind of euphoria, the kind of inward momentum that a great film can give you.  The great films are those that you don’t simply watch, you stand just inside the screen, experiencing the action around you.  You lean forward, waiting to see where the journey will take you.  You don’t always understand it but it meets with your intellect and invites you to ask questions, interpret the concept of an eternal afterlife and what that may entail.  It’s the best kind of movie: one that you take home with you in the deepest recesses of your mind.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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