David Lowery’s A Ghost Story was easily the most divisive movie that played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. And there’s no reason to think that it won’t spark the same heated love-it-or-hate-it emotions back at sea level now. The film opens with a couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) living in a nondescript suburban home haunted by bumps in the night. Before we learn anything about them, the man dies in a car accident, rises from the slab in the morgue underneath a white sheet, and slowly wanders back to the home they shared, looking like the wearer of the laziest Halloween costume ever. There, he lurks, draped in white like Casper the creepy ghost, watching Mara mourn and go through the various stages of grief, which include slumping on the floor and numbly scarfing down an entire pie.
Rather than convey any real emotions, though, this Method eating scene goes on for so long that it starts to feel like a bad joke — worse, a bad joke that doesn’t know when to wrap up. After Mara moves out, Affleck’s sheet-covered specter stays in the house, silently waiting for her to come back. The wait spans years, then centuries. A Ghost Story tiptoes around some poignant ideas about the long tail of time, the eternality of love, and the spiritual weight of regret and longing. And some, no doubt, will find Lowery’s playfully surreal experiment (a ghost story told from the POV of the ghost) haunting, lyrical, and moving. Others (ahem, guilty as charged) will just find it maddening, inscrutable, and alienating. Check it out, then take your side in the debate. C