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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

The house sits like a rock in a river of green. Two bedrooms. A study. A small carport to the side. Nothing remarkable.

Except, perhaps, for the families who've lived there. A bedroom becomes an island of comfort and intimacy, breakfasts in bed and late-night talks. A kitchen harbors echoes of laughter and conversation, the scent of baked bread and casseroles. For children, the study might be the stage for car races and tea parties, block buildings and space battles. A house becomes a home becomes a world unto itself.

C and M lived in the house—sometimes happily, sometimes not. He'd work on his music, pounding on the piano left by an owner from a distant past. She'd read her books and imagine a brighter future.

It was haunted even then, perhaps. They'd see strange lights flicker on the walls, hear the piano late at night. But it didn't bother C. For him, the house was home. His world.

"What is it you like about this house so much, anyway?" M asks, ready to move.

"History," C says. Their history.

M is silent for a moment. "Not as much as you think," she says.

They make plans to move. But before they do, C is killed in a car crash: M goes to the hospital to see the body. She stares at the dead man's face a moment. Then she pulls the sheet over her husband again and walks away quick.

Wait a beat. Two.

Then, C rises, still draped in the shroud. He walks, facing a doorway flooding with dazzling light. But then he turns and looks elsewhere. Slowly he moves … back to the house.

Back to her.

Positive Elements

A Ghost Story is a rumination upon loss and grief and time and the inexplicable, inscrutable nature of life and belonging—which is a lot to pack into an 87-minute movie. Though the film is, in the strictest sense, a story, it's more like a poem. Neither C nor M nor any of the ancillary characters that flit in and out of the film do anything particularly noteworthy: They live and love and sometimes die. We don't see role models here. There are no heroes.

But while the characters may not be bursting with the sort of positivity we typically talk about here, the movie's slow, lyrical exploration of important issues is worth considering in this space. While that exploration may take viewers in uncomfortable directions at times, this is a movie to unpack and ponder, to savor and puzzle over and discuss.

Spiritual Content

As you might expect, A Ghost Story has a ghost or two in it. And if we choose to take the story at face value—that C's sheeted spirit is a literal ghost rather than symbol or metaphor (as it could potentially be interpreted)—it's certainly evidence of some form of afterlife.

C, by not walking through that lighted doorway, seems to turn away from the movie's manifestation of a heaven-like afterlife, choosing instead to stalk the temporal world. He stands in the house, mostly unseen and often simply a passive observer of time there, even long after M moves away.

Sometimes he acts as we typically think a ghost would: When a young, Spanish-speaking family moves in, he materializes in their closet and scares 'em something fierce. (The family's little boy is the only living person who ever seems to see him.) C also throws dishes during a family dinner, terrifying the tar out of the diners. He tosses books, plinks on the piano and, in particularly emotional moments, makes the lights flicker.

But he's not alone. Across the way, he sees another ghost—this one bedecked in a floral sheet. It stares at him from another house.

"I'm waiting for someone," the other ghost says silently (through subtitles).

"Who?"

"I can't remember."

That echo of forgetfulness comes up again: During a party at the house, a man launches into a soliloquy on the nature of meaning and significance. First, he asks his audience of one whether she's "got God." When she says she doesn't, he says that finding real meaning in life becomes much trickier without God. He notes that all the greatest symphonies were written for Him: If that divine component went missing, a composer's justification for those works shrinks.

So then he suggests there's a second, lesser rationale for creating wonderful (or even not-so-wonderful) works: Being remembered after you're dead. We all do it, he says. But the man takes his growing group of listeners on a nihilistic trip through the cosmos. Even if, against all odds, a work survives earth-bound cataclysm or the consumption of the earth itself by the sun, eventually the universe will collapse into a tiny pinhead of matter, making it all moot. It's a depressing message … unless, of course, we've "got God."

A family says a prayer, thanking God for "the blessings we're about to receive." Another family celebrates Christmas. Ghosts sometimes vanish or manifest themselves in shimmering lights on walls. There's some talk about calling on spirits to help with a magic card trick.

Sexual Content

C and M kiss and cuddle in bed, rubbing noses and sometimes passionately smooching before falling asleep. Both are unclothed at least from the waist up in one scene (though we see nothing critical), and when both rise to investigate a strange noise, M wraps herself in a sheet. (C walks around in jeans.)

After C dies, M passionately kisses another suitor at the house's front door. M takes a shower (we see her behind misty glass, but only from the shoulders up) and wraps herself in a towel. Other couples kiss at a party.

Violent Content

C dies in an auto accident. We see the aftermath: Two crumpled cars (steam rising like spirits from them), and C in the driver's seat of one, dead, his head pressed against the steering wheel. When M views the body in the hospital later, the head bears a nasty (but not particularly gory) cut.

C—and we—see the remains of what appears to be a Native American massacre: A family of five lies dead around what was to be their homestead, arrows sticking out of some of the corpses. As C looks on, their bodies decay and skeletonize, eventually sinking into the earth. Someone leaps from a tall building.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word is spoken, and another is potentially sung. We also hear an s-word.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Partygoers drink beer and other alcoholic beverages. Some appear to have had quite a bit.

Other Negative Elements

The ghostly C seems furious with a family for moving into the house and, it would seem, he frightens them away. He grows angry when he sees M kiss another man—understandable, perhaps, but he is dead, after all. After eating a good portion of an entire pie, M runs to the bathroom to vomit. (We hear her retch.)

Conclusion

A Ghost Story is not built to frighten. But it may indeed haunt you.

Its content might not scare you away. Yes, it's rated R. But outside its two f-words, the film is far more restrained than many PG-13 flicks I've seen. But this isn't the sort of film you simply watch, enjoy and forget.

The movie's less than 90 minutes long, but it still takes its time. Director David Lowery (who helmed the Pete's Dragon remake) compares it to something more like "staring out a window" than anything featuring Freddy Krueger or Annabelle the haunted doll. Minutes roll by as we watch C and M cuddle in bed or C, as a ghost, scrapes at a wall. And to some, perhaps it might feel a little pretentious.

But it's these moments that give the film much of its power.

When I saw C's ghost in its first extended shot—two black holes in the sheet for eyes, standing silently in the kitchen—the ghost looked funny, then scary, then unimaginably sad, then all three, all without the entity actually doing anything. When the film spends five minutes watching a grief-stricken M compulsively eat almost an entire pie, it feels like a horrific, almost unbearable moment of intimacy and brokenness. Even the film's cadence feels like a rumination on the nature of time: The camera can linger on one seemingly inconsequential scene for long stretches. And then, the timeline will jump forward a month. Ten years. Maybe 50. For such an intimate little tale, it certainly has some lofty ambitions.

Should you see it? It seems almost unfair—unfair to the movie, and unfair to you, too—to end this review by giving a pat answer to that question. It's certainly not a movie for kids or, for that matter, for many adults. Those who feel a movie isn't worth seeing unless something blows up might want to skip this one, too.

But if you choose to go, A Ghost Story will make you think, and it might make you feel. A little sad. Perhaps a little lost. And maybe, in the end, a little hopeful.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Casey Affleck as C; Rooney Mara as M

Director

David Lowery ( )

Distributor

A24

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

July 21, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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