Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
DEATH—Why does it exist?
What if the cosmos is all that there is? Answer
How can we know there’s a God? Answer
If God made everything, who made God? Answer
Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer
Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer
What does God say? Answer
Is Jesus Christ God? Answer
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
death and the final judgment
|Featuring:|| Casey Affleck … “C”
Rooney Mara … “M”
McColm Cephas Jr. … Little Boy
Kenneisha Thompson … Doctor
Grover Coulson … Man in Wheelchair
Liz Franke (Liz Cardenas Franke) … Linda
Barlow Jacobs … Gentleman Caller
Richard Krause … Mover
Dagger Salazar … Mover
Sonia Acevedo … Maria
Carlos Bermudez … Carlos
Yasmina Gutierrez … Yasmina
Kesha … Spirit Girl (Kesha Sebert)
See all »
|Director:||David Lowery—“Pete's Dragon” (2016), “Ain't Them Bodies Saints” (2013)|
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Generally, after viewing a movie, I drive home and try to write my review within a few hours . Things are still fresh in my mind, and I avoid forgetting certain plot points or moments of objectionable content that I think the reader might appreciate knowing. Having said that, I saw “A Ghost Story” early Friday night, and it is now Sunday afternoon as I am typing. Not because I didn’t have time Friday night to complete it (I always try to block myself out enough time afterward), but because, once it was over, I knew I would need time to process what I had just seen. There won’t be anything quite like it to come along this year. A day and a half after seeing it, I can honestly say I haven’t stopped thinking about this movie.
“A Ghost Story” is a tough one to even describe. “A Ghost Story” is not for everyone. In fact, after seeing the movie, I mentally ran through a list of my friends and could think of only three people I would even consider recommending it to. Not because I think they’d even like it; I’m just really curious to know their thoughts. Recommending it to other friends might cause them to never speak to me again. If you like your movies to entertain you or to leave you with some sense of closure (or even have a modest amount of dialog), then stay away from this one at all costs.
The set-up for this movie is pretty simple, and, if you’ve seen the trailers, you likely already know it. Casey Affleck dies in a car accident in front of the house he shares with Rooney Mara. She goes to the hospital to identify the body, leaves, and after an unusually long shot (get used to these) of the sheet-covered body lying in the morgue, the body stirs and sits-up. The bedsheet ghost wanders the hospital halls, and, instead of going to Heaven when a doorway of light opens up in a wall in front of him, he turns left, and walks home.
There he watches Rooney as she grieves and adjusts to a new life without him. I’m not really going to say more than that, because to divulge much else might ruin the experience for those intending to see this movie.
The film is less of a plot-driven one, in the traditional sense, and really more a movie based on a concept, a meditation on certain ideas. The ideas the film explores are numerous: death, grief, communication, our own existence, the afterlife, the existence of God. It’s almost like an artist painted different works to illustrate all those different ideas, and then asked us to look and ponder them for an hour and a half.
And, truthfully, the paintings would speak almost as much as the characters in this movie speak. Dialog is very sparse, and instead chooses to speak loudly through visuals—some short scenes and some extended ones. Early on, the camera lingers on a stationary shot of the house exterior for a longer period of time than we are used to seeing in most movies. The director, David Lowery, is just warming us up, because from then on, the scenes continue to push the limits of how long audiences will sit and watch a single shot.
About 20 or 30 minutes in, there is a scene that you’ve likely read or heard about, if you’ve read or heard anything about “A Ghost Story.” It involves Rooney Mara eating a pie for at least 5 minutes straight. That’s it—no dialog. Just Rooney and the pie. At one point during the scene, a person in the theater sat up straight and turned to the people she was with and the look on her face simultaneously said “What on Earth are we watching?” and “Why haven’t we just walked out yet?”
It was one of the strangest, and most affecting scenes I can remember in any movie I’ve ever seen. We start by watching it as we would any other scene, and then we keep watching, then we start to get a little antsy, then we feel a little voyeuristic, then we just feel downright invasive of her privacy, and then, on a dime, I felt a genuine heartache for this woman. And that’s when this movie got me. I actually had a long day at work and was finding myself a little drowsy up until that point. And somehow, a 5 minute scene of no dialog and pie eating snapped me out of my stupor, hooked me, and reeled me in for the rest of what the movie had to offer.
For an R-rated film, this might be as mild as they come. There is one f-word spoken, another heard in a song, and one s-word. That’s it. We see Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck kissing in bed, once again in a scene that lingers longer than we are used to seeing. But the scene is more intimate than erotic, and while the characters seem to be naked under the sheets, we only see from the shoulders up.
At one point in the film, the ghost acts much more like a traditional ghost and throws things around the house, frightening the people inside. And the dead body of a child is seen lying in a field, and over a few successive shots, we see that body in various stages of decay. But, all of that probably reads more intensely than it plays out on the screen. This is not a horror film. At least this is one R-rated movie I wouldn’t discourage mature Christian audiences from seeing due to objectionable content.
As far as spiritual content goes, this movie will leave viewers with plenty to talk about afterward, be they Christian or not. Of all the issues put forth, the movie presents one central question: Can life have meaning if God doesn’t exist? We know this is the central question, because during the only real “talky” scene of the movie, a character poses that question to a group of people and then talks at length about the implications.
What if the cosmos is all that there is? Answer
So many great works of art have been painted, so many great poems and novels have been written, and so many great symphonies have been composed with God as the artist’s inspiration—and the One to Whom those works are dedicated. But, if God didn’t exist to be the inspiration of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, then is there really a point to it? Did he compose it for a nephew? A friend? So people wouldn’t forget his name?
If God doesn’t exist, he says, then all of our life is to affect our small sphere of influence in a tiny microcosm of the enormity of the cosmos. So memories of us will likely live on, through kids and grand kids and so on. But, eventually, the last person to remember anything about us will die. And then what?
In Beethoven’s case, the man says, perhaps things will get so bad that the universe will basically destroy itself, people will regenerate anew, and someone, somewhere, will start humming Symphony No. 9 while working out in the fields, and the physics of the music will impact the listeners around so greatly that they, too, will be inspired to create things once again.
Or, God does exist, and things are done by His sovereign power and for His glory and have a far reaching and eternal impact. The movie seems to reveal which side of the discussion it falls on, but I will leave that for you to see for yourself.
I, for one, appreciate a movie that is willing to tackle this concept at all. I have already been able to have a few very interesting discussions with coworkers who are not believers of Christ, but who have expressed an interest in the movie. And that alone made seeing this movie worth it.
But, should you see it? If the description hasn’t scared you off yet, then you may want to give it a shot. “A Ghost Story” is a peculiar movie that has had an even more peculiar effect on me. This movie is likely to elicit some very impassioned reactions, both pro and very, very con. As those around me left the theater, it was clear the majority (of the small-ish crowd) wanted their money back. As I left the theater, I thought, “Hmm. I’m not really sure what I think about this one.”
David Lowery co-wrote and directed Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon” (2016) and used his earnings to make “A Ghost Story.” He was raised in a Catholic family (his father an influential Roman Catholic theologian), attended church regularly, but became an ATHEIST as a young adult—and remains so. He says,
“Casey and Rooney are basically playing me and my wife [actress Augustine Frizzell]. Every bit of dialog they have in the movie is based on dialog that my wife and I have exchanged…”
“…it’s incredibly sincere but mixed with such a high concept idea—if you approach it with any cynicism it might fail horribly.”
“…I’ve been an atheist for as much of my life as I’ve been a Catholic, but it wasn’t until recently that I found myself coming to terms with it in a very existential way.”
“…I’m not searching for the meaning of life, but I’m looking for a meaning within my life.”
“As you get older, and become more aware of mortality and the passage of time, if you don’t believe in an afterlife, or are agnostic, you have to figure out a new way to define what your purpose is. It’s a troublesome quandary, but this monologue was my way of working through it.”
His father Mark Lowery, Ph.D., is editor-in-chief of the Catholic Social Science Review and a Professor of Theology and department chairman at the University of Dallas, a private and independent Catholic regional school.
So, what is David Lowery’s NEXT project? He’s making a CBS TV mini-series created by Mark Heyman (writer of the extremely offensive “Black Swan”—2010). The series is titled “Strange Angel” and is based on a BIOGRAPHY of the same name, about a wealthy man named John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons—a rocket scientist and JPL co-founder, a sexual hedonist (orgies, etc.), and an avid occultist black magic devotee (a disciple of bisexual occultist Aleister Crowley who was grooming Parsons to be his successor). Parsons, an occultic priest, led black magic rituals with L. Ron Hubbard—later founder of the so-called Church of Scientology, who moved into his mansion, which was the U.S. headquarters of Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis.
Through a series of ceremonies, including “sexual magick,” they attempted to conceive the Anti-Christ by first incarnating (producing in human form) a profane goddess named “Babalon” (aka The Scarlet Woman, Mother of Abomination). (As incredible and perverse as this may sound to Christian readers, these are all facts—easily confirmed.)
But, in the time since, this movie won’t let me shake it. I don’t love it, but I certainly don’t hate it either, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. Perhaps admire is a better word. It’s the antithesis of the typical summer movie, and for its willingness alone to be something different, I greatly appreciate it. The more the movie stays with me, however, the more likely it will require a second viewing. And, for someone who doesn’t see movies in the theater twice, that’s saying something.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Mild
Full belief in atheistic evolutionism breeds feelings of insignificance, hopelessness and meaninglessness. Although self-centered, self-important humans live and think as if they are the center of the universe, they eventually discover they are not—far from it. Lost souls will understandably feel a strong empathy for the anguish of this film’s “Ghost” and relate to his lonely frustration about life, death and the terrifying thought of being a fragile and transient speck that will soon be forgotten in an enormous void of space and time. Remember what atheist and Secular Humanist Carl Sagan taught millions…
Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.
“A Ghost Story” stimulates about life’s brevity, and although it may unintentionally trigger some increased awareness of the One True God’s existence—and the true meaning and purpose of life—followers of Christ are encouraged to learn more about the Director—what he believes and what he says about the film (see sidebar).
Lord… let me know how transient I am. —Psalm 39:4 NASB
…You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. —James 4:14 NASB
The only One who can give you true meaning in life (and death) is Jesus Christ—our Creator. He is The Hope and The Way. What He offers is amazing, beyond what any human can truly comprehend. He paid the price for what separates sinners from their Creator, from the day Adam first sinned.
Confess your sins, repent and believe in Him with all your heart. You will find that the ultimate, joyous “meaning of life” is to be with God, to love Him and enjoy Him forever.
“A Ghost Story” is designed for the art-house film aesthetic. It was released last January at the Sundance Film Festival, and having scored 2 famous actors for the cast and some critical praise, a relatively small number of mainstream theaters are gambling on its success. We’ll see what happens. It is likely that most audiences will find this film far too slow and odd for their tastes.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.