This week I’m honing in on a single track that elevates a flawed, ambitious little gem of a film.
David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is going to wide release today. I caught the film last weekend and–while I’m mixed on the movie as a whole–urge you all to check it out. It’s exactly what it claims to be: the story of a ghost (Casey Affleck in a white bedsheet, the most acceptable form of Casey Affleck we’re going to get) haunting the house he once occupied with Rooney Mara.
At its heart, the film is a deeply felt portrait of grief, existential dread, and human fallibility. A Ghost Story gets lost in its ever-expansive reach, but it is ultimately held together by a nearly transcendent first half. I also found the ghost itself to be kind of a piece of shit, though that seems to be a central part of the film’s thoughts on human connection.
The first half of the film focuses on Affleck and Mara both as a couple at odds with each other over the house they live in (and probably more) and as a grieving partner and the ghost fated to watch her move on and away from him. It’s in the moments where Lowery digs into the strained, yet loving relationship between the two that the film really shines.
And this is where a single external song comes in. It’s Dark Rooms “I Get Overwhelmed.” As legend tells us, Lowery heard it in the middle of shooting the film and was so stricken by it that he incorporated the song into the very heart of the film.
As the ghost thinks over his and Mara’s relationship in the house they shared, a sequence of disagreements and disconnects builds to a moment where Affleck’s distant composer avoids a conversation with Mara by showing her a song of his. In A Ghost Story’s universe, it’s “I Get Overwhelmed.”
Lowery allows the song to play out in full. His long takes give Mara room to really listen to the song. This is as good a moment as any to note that Mara really carries the film. She communicates so much with her eyes and body here, letting us see her process Affleck’s loss and the reality of moving on from him and the house they once occupied.
It’s a moment of “pure cinema,” as some like to call it (cinematic moments that play out solely through music and moving image, no dialogue). In two separate time lines, we see Mara longing to connect with Affleck, and Affleck able only to throw this aural lifeline her way. A ghost stands present to her loneliness in both cases, at once literally and metaphorically.
The celestial roominess in Dark Rooms’ track couldn’t fit Lowery’s portrait of loss more perfectly. At once present and at the same time separated by factors we can’t wrap our heads around, we cling to the things we have. Be it a song, a face, or a house. But the crushing reality A Ghost Story exposes to us is that it’s never quite enough.
Daniel Hart’s voice swells and expands as Rooney Mara’s hand slides across the floor to the edge of Affleck’s white sheet. But the connection fails to register. In the past, Mara removes her headphones and exits the room. As if to tell Affleck that a song, however beautiful, is still not a conversation. It’s not recognition. In the present, she lays frozen on the floor, awake to the fact that this song, while still not enough, is all she gets.
It’s truly overwhelming. And somehow Lowery makes it all fit inside this relatively tiny story. I do believe the movie loses track of this thread as it continues on, but in the moments where it strikes upon these ever-human truths, Lowery’s film is as great as cinema can aspire to be.