A Ghost Story

Director and Writer: David Lowery

Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck

I32 mins, UK 2017

Rooney Mara stars as a young widow and Casey Affleck stars as her recently deceased husband who for most of the film is hidden beneath a large sheet in a ghost story that is at once ludicrous and weirdly haunting.

There is almost no dialogue: not surprising really as most scenes feature only one live person, who is unaware of the silent dead-husband-in-a-sheet staring at her. For some of the film I could feel hysterical laughter bubbling inside me, not least because of the utterly reverential silence all around me. (Ismay was eye-rolling, so not very reverential.) In an early scene, when the young woman returns from her husband’s funeral, we watch her eating a pie in the open-plan kitchen. She eats it, and eats it, stabbing with her fork at what must be – after 15 or 20 minutes of pie-eating –  an empty pie-dish. But no, on and on it goes: stab pie-dish with fork; shovel huge piece of pie into mouth; stab pie-dish with fork. I suspect that writer/director David Lowery took this image off the dusty shelf marked ‘grieving or distressed woman’, where ‘woman eats in crazy fashion’ sits alongside ‘woman drops contents of handbag on floor and scrabbles to pick them up’ (Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine) and ‘woman draws heavily on first fag she’s smoked in decades’ (Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years).

And yet, and yet … when the ghost communes with a fellow-ghost behind the window of a neighbouring house, it is oddly moving. And the slow revelation that the ghost is condemned to stay forever in the one place, inside the house or on the site of the house, haunting it throughout time, is unsettling and uncanny. And the final narrative twist, familiar to fans of SFnal explorations of the paradoxes of time-travel and exemplified in the classic Robert Heinlein story ‘By His Bootstraps’, is, well, rather brilliant.

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In fact the whole ghost-in-a-sheet concept was rather brilliant. Like the ghost figure in Myazaki’s Spirited Away, this ghost’s stillness and silence stay with you. In truth it’s an image I’ve found hard to dislodge from my mind. I’m beginning to see it everywhere, mute but freighted with meaning …

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