A Ghost Story Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara. Directed by David Lowery. Rated R. Opens Friday at Green Valley Ranch and Suncoast.
A movie in which the main character spends nearly the entire running time covered by a bed sheet does not sound like an emotionally devastating drama, but writer-director David Lowery delivers a layered and moving meditation on grief and the passage of time in A Ghost Story, all while his lead actor is mute under a white shroud (with eyeholes). To be fair, star Casey Affleck does show his face and deliver a few lines at various points, as a troubled musician known only as C. His marriage to M (Rooney Mara) is clearly going through a rough patch, but it’s cut short when C dies in a car accident right in front of the couple’s house.
After M leaves him behind in the morgue, though, C appears to sit up under the sheet covering his face and shuffle home, where he lurks right beside his bereft wife and yet is unable to connect with her. With her co-star relegated to part of the scenery (sometimes in ingenious, even heartbreaking ways), Mara carries the emotional weight of the first half, especially in a mesmerizing five-minute scene as M consumes an entire pie, left by a well-meaning neighbor, unable to express her grief in any other way.
But the movie somehow becomes even more powerful after M leaves the story (at least for a while), and C is unable to move on from the house they shared. Lowery elegantly shows the long, elliptical passage of time, as different inhabitants move into the house, and it’s eventually demolished and replaced, all while C stands stoically or moves slowly through spaces he no longer recognizes. Simple, silent exchanges with another sheet-covered ghost next door carry the burden of decades spent adrift in a changing, unfamiliar world.
Lowery gets a little lost as the story moves across centuries, in a lyrical way that recalls Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, but he brings it back with a near-perfect ending that encapsulates all of the preceding hope and despair into a single moment—and it’s the presence of that sheet that makes it work so beautifully.