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Search for the meaning of afterlife

Tim Kroenert |  12 July 2017


A Ghost Story (M). Director: David Lowery. Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Will Oldham. 90 minutes

'Haunting' is an unfortunate cliche to use to describe a film titled A Ghost Story, but it is also apt. American filmmaker Lowery's spooky and emotionally pungent tale doubles as a meditation on human connection — to place, and in relationship to other humans — and on the purported existential limits of human endeavor, that remains vividly with the viewer long after the closing credits roll.

A struggling musician named only as C (Affleck) shares a small suburban home with his wife, M (Mara). From the scant, gentle portrayals of their life together early in the film, we can sense an abiding love, albeit with a skein of disconnection, even discontent. Their shared life is cut short when C is killed in a car accident outside their home; soon after however he returns there in ghostly form.

Silent and invisible to M, the ghost of C (appearing to the viewer as a Halloween-style, white sheet-clad specter) observes his wife in her grief. Time grows elastic; C watches for long minutes as, in mourning, M rapidly devours a pie straight from the pan, until she vomits. Later, weeks and months pass in seconds, as C watches M come and go from the house in the course of daily routine.

Eventually M moves on and moves out, and for a time C, out of angst or boredom, terrorises the young children of a family who moves in after her. Their residency too is transient, and C finds himself listening to a guest at a party (Oldham, named in the credits as 'Prognosticator') thrown by the next inhabitants, as he opines at length upon the futility of human legacy-building in a finite universe.

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in A Ghost StoryC is waiting for something; for the meaning of his truncated life, perhaps, and of his marriage to M, to become clear. Divorced from linear perceptions of time, he rushes into the future, to witness the cityscape that eventually replaces the suburban neighbourhood; and then into the past, where he views the aftermath of the massacre of a colonial family by Native Americans on the same site.


"A Ghost Story demands reflection more than explanation."


Amid this in-folding of past, present and future, and the concrete evidence of death and transience located at all points, that talkative partygoer's nihilistic prognostications echo fiercely. But they do not entirely satisfy the truth-seeking C (or the truth-seeker inside each of the film's viewers, for that matter). The power of C's connection to that place refutes meaninglessness unequivocally.

Eventually C returns to the time he and M first arrived at the house. As C ruminates in greater detail on the time they spent together there, the film comes closest to offering answers. They remain, however, suitably opaque. Elegiac, ambiguous and with extended periods of near silence and stillness, A Ghost Story demands reflection more than explanation.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is editor of Eureka Street.



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Submitted comments

This film sounds like one of those dark, introspective Swedish films. I'd be inclined to see it if only to watch Rooney Mara's performance. I thought she was superb In "Carol".

Pam 13 July 2017

The meaning of afterlife. 'Ghost Story demands reflection more than explanation'. Perhaps that reflection should start with the Bible presentation in Genesis of God's attitude to the afterlife. God is portrayed as being against it. "Man must not be allowed to stretch out his hand to the tree of life and live forever". Despite this, The prospect of an afterlife has been used by religions to attract followers, often with good effects. But lately we witness that same prospect being used to promote very ungodly acts like terrorism and indiscriminate murders; encouraged by gratuitous promises of eternal rewards; in in order to promote one religious interpretation over others. Without those specious promises perhaps terrorism would vanish like the ghost.

Robert Liddy 04 August 2017

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