David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is an unflinchingly forlorn film that in its every breath conveys more truth about the human condition than most movies could ever hope to achieve. Told in a minimalist style that comprises of a single location, a few ghost costumes and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio: the film’s storyline of a man (Casey Affleck) coming back as a spirit to witness his wife’s real-time mourning of his death, has the touching intimacy of a play.
In fact, some of the most memorable sequences are the ones in which the central characters are in each other’s company. An early scene depicting the couple trying to sleep after being awakened by a series of unknown noises is heartening in its depiction of the sacred closeness the couple share as they embrace, kiss and eventually fall asleep in one another’s arms.
The first half of the film authentically portrays the bleakness of loneliness with languid wide-angle shots of our central character watching his wife go about her everyday routine without him. The choice to hardly show the husband after he has passed allows the audience to project an inherent fear of being a lost soul onto the solitary ghostly figure.
The 1.33:1 aspect ratio seeks to isolate us further in the eternal cycle of the central character’s plight and gives the film a weight of history due to many of the shots looking like sepia-tone Polaroids from another era. Even the music has this sense of haunting recurrence as director Lowery revealed during an interview that the score was written with trace elements of the song that the wife character (Rooney Mara) listens to throughout the film.
The second half of the film has a soul-crushing speech about the futility of trying to create a legacy. While it could be interpreted as presenting the central idea of the film, A Ghost Story is subtler than that. In actuality, the picture is about how we can be a ghost within our lives. In recalling memories, we can become lost spirits who are forever trapped in a cycle of trying to understand the moments that have emotionally shaped us, even with the knowledge that they’re slowly crumbling to dust within our minds.