No one can really blame you for not seeing A Ghost Story in theaters earlier this summer. It’s not the kind of film that begs for the theatrical experience. There’s a sparseness to it, an intimacy, that begs for home viewings. Repeated, if necessary.
Actually, repeat viewings are necessary to get the full understanding of A Ghost Story’s accomplishments. There’s a lot to unpack in director David Lowery’s austere tale of our relationship to time and to each other. Subsequent viewings of the film reveal new secrets and things to love, opening its insights a little bit further with each new go around.
Casey Affleck stars as the recently deceased C, who rises from his morgue table covered in a sheet and returns to the home he shared with his girlfriend, M (Rooney Mara). There he watches as she begins her grieving process and tries to move on, and is soon taken on a journey through and around time
Among the benefits of repeat viewings is witnessing how great Rooney Mara’s performance actually is. It was easy for me to love her in the role the first time watching A Ghost Story in theaters; but at home you get a whole new level of appreciation for the depth of her character. Mara wears the face of grief like a mask; each subtle movement of her eyes packs the emotional resonance of an entire tale. Her work here is magical, and it’s captured beautifully by Lowery.
The 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which felt odd in theaters, makes for a heightened home watching experience. Ultimately, this is a work about confinement—just as man is confined to their own time limits, so too is Casey Affleck’s C. confined to his own house—and the non-traditional aspect ratio is used to stunning effect here. It’s restrained, but within the limitations Lowery creates something truly delightful.
It’s hard not to get existential about the film, even the technical aspects. We are all restrained to our own tiny slices of time, outside of which we cannot venture. But we can all work within our own limits to make our piece of history mean the most, defying the limitations of our lifespans to become something more. By the same token, Lowery takes a limited aspect ratio—a square, instead of the usual rectangle you get with most movies—and he, along with cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, creates something truly cinematic within its boundaries.
There’s plenty of discussion of this in the special features of the Blu-ray, both in the commentary track and the 20-minute featurette “A Ghost Story and the Inevitable Passing of Time.” That featurette, shot in the dark in a supposedly haunted building, offers plenty of insights on the film, from its inception to its casting to its production, are explored at length and bring you even deeper into the existential musings of Lowery.
Equally insightful was the featurette “A Composer’s Story.” Daniel Hart’s haunting addition to A Ghost Story is easily one of the best film scores of this year. Hart, of course, has had plenty of time to perfect his art in bands like The Physics of Meaning and Dark Rooms, in addition to his work scoring for Lowery’s previous works, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Pete’s Dragon (among others). Though all too brief (I could have and would have listened to him discuss his music for hours) it is a wonderful addition to the Blu-ray that’s worth viewing at least once.
Even without any features, A Ghost Story would be worth owning just to allow for fully unpacking everything going on in Lowery’s deceptively rich film. With these features, however, A Ghost Story becomes an absolute must own movie. This is a film whose richness deepens with each subsequent viewing, and that alone makes it a worthy addition to any film collection.
A Ghost Story is now available on Blu-ray.
See our original review here.