Ghost Story – A Visual Manifestation of Lowery’s Raw Emotion
A review by Tiffany Ng on the opening film at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Hong Kong – ‘A Ghost Story’.
“I was very aware of falling flat on my face”
Having began as a summer passion project, director David Lowery’s ‘Ghost Story’ is a unique take on a tragic love story which toys with the boundaries of technical storytelling in conjunction to the existentialist themes of time, space, and the state of being. It captures M (Rooney Mara) upon the death of her partner C (Casey Affleck), who becomes a ghost, ‘Ghost Story’, and is essentially a visual manifestation of Lowery’s existential crisis.
Lowery documents the ‘afterlife’ of C (Casey Affleck), in a variation between first and third person. The dubiousness of C’s spiritual presence in his ‘spectator’s perspective’ sparks uncertainty in the collision of two spacetime dimensions and establishes an undertone of insignificance. Opening with a lengthy montage of spacious wide shots, Lowery downplays the presence of C’s wandering spirit.
The erratic pacing of the film long takes, continuous transitions through centuries, and simple displays of mundane routines, most notably his 5 minute pie-eating sequence, introduced an alternate perception of time and space. By eliminating a visual escape from the ‘reality’ of the suffocatingly long scene, the element of realism is juxtaposed by the proceeding swift passage of time towards the end of the film.
“the complete dependence of film rhetorics makes for a simplified immersive emotional experience.”
In employing jarring contrasts between the rudimentary elements of afterlife and reality, Lowery introduces a refreshing degree of ambiguity in the plot. While the minimisation of dialogue pushes the emphasis on the score and heightens the effects of inexplicability in his narrative, the complete dependence of film rhetorics makes for a simplified immersive emotional experience.
In a flashback of the film, M listens to a tape C made for her and lies on the floor. Cutting between the flashback and the present, M is pictured stretching across the floor and almost touching C’s bedsheet. This inevitable visual separation between the estranged lovers, coupled with Daniel Hart’s impeccable sound-track evoked an undeniable sense of anguish and grief, embodying the film’s simplistic portrayal of an abstract concept.
With visible traces of (Terence) Malickian influences, evident in his aerie yet spiritual construction of the film, Lowery took a risk in his evasion from the conventions of big blockbuster Hollywood films. The slow pace of the film commanded patience and fabricated a perpetual feeling of disintegration. Much like Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Lowery believed in drawing focus to the minute mundane details to intensify the underlying feeling of melancholy.
At the expense of thematic climaxes, Lowery capitalised on the idea of impermanence through his use of cutaways. Building off of the idea of Mono No Aware (the pathos of things), this subtle sadness of reality extended to the anticlimactic editing structure of the film.
Incorporating an imminent loss of control with the eerie image of a bed-sheet ghost, David Lowery captured undeniably genuine raw emotions in a narrative that was in no way realistic, ultimately generating a love that is inevitably infinite.