A Ghost Story

Aug 1, 2017

It's a strange but affecting look at life after death.

A Ghost Story

Grade: B+

Director: David Lowery (St. Nick)

Screenplay: Lowery

Cast: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Rooney Mara (Lion)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 32 min

by John DeSando

“We build our legacy piece by piece and maybe the whole world will remember you or maybe just a couple of people, but you do what you can to make sure you're still around after you're gone.” Houseguest

As A Ghost Story goes, nothing scary emerges but a big sheet with eye holes. Yet the Ghost, C (Casey Affleck), a former resident of this suburban Texas ranch house, witnesses ages go by including the love of his life, whom he left as he was an accident victim. Among the families to pass through the house, the ghost has seen settlers from the early 18th century to those occupying his house after his death.

The almost sci-fi drama through time that writer/director David Lowery subjects us to is part Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, part Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. The ghost witnesses love and tragedy while never being able to communicate with the occupants, especially M, his former love (Rooney Mara). He, after a fatal accident, becomes the main sheeted ghost while messaging another ghost across the way.

Regardless of the fantasy in all this ghost stuff, Lowery forces us to think of the weight of loss, as M must live without her beloved C, and the passage of time that seems to efface the ties to the house’s past. But before his death, C mentions a crucial need to indulge, the need to feel one’s history as it is reflected in a home:

M: “What is it you like about this house so much?”

C: “History.”

The memories tied to objects bind us to an assured existence, and we can join the universe by recognizing James Joyce’s perception of “the melancholy unity between the living and the dead.” A Ghost Story can be enjoyed as a fantasy, a cautionary tale, or just as an imaginative take on the ephemeral nature of life. At the least it will solidify fantasies you may have had about observing from afar loved ones after your death; at its worst, it could be silly and boring.

Any way you look at it, you’re bound to ask questions of whoever else has seen the film. So take someone to see it with you. Create your own reality by making notes to each other:

M: When I was little and we used to move all the time, I'd write these notes and I would fold them up really small. And I would hide them.

C: What'd they say?

M: They're just things I wanted to remember so that if I ever wanted to go back, there'd be a piece of me there waiting.

A Ghost Story is as good a look at our interest in life after death as you’re going to get. It’s not a scary film; it’s just weirdly amusing.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at