A ghost story

For some time now, I have set out to see all those movies that, one way or the other, have got on my watch list. Mind you, this is not an easy undertaking, since there are more than 200 titles on said list, and one has to find the time for them. Also, not every movie works in any given time, for many, you need to be in the right mood. Never the less, in the past weeks, I have started crossing names of my list. To my disappointment, most of the movies were ok at best. Some were under developed, some were misrepresented and some should not have been made in the first place. Given this track record, I was somewhat worried that this movie will follow suit. Thankfully, it did not.

The story is quite simple. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are a couple, living in a house. One day, Casey Affleck’s characters dies in a car crash. Soon after, he wakes up as a ghost and we find out, what is like to be a ghost. Sounds like a comedy? I assure you, it is not.


The very first thing that anybody will notice is the strange aspect ratio of the picture. The movie is shot in 1.33:1 and the corners are rounded. This provides a very unique look and feeling as well. It is kind of looking through the view finder of a camera. Every showed image is concentrated and you automatically focus on the essential, since there is nothing else to see. There are no distractions. No clutter. If something is on the screen, it is meant to be there. Also, it creates a very intimate atmosphere. The viewing experience becomes much more personal. I was looking at the screen like a deer was looking at a pair of headlights. In fact, this is first and foremost, a movie with visual story telling. Very little dialog, just pictures and sounds for most of the movie. Most of what needs to be learned is on the screen, and the rest is communicated trough the music. Here, the music is used to communicate emotional context. It has a powerful presence, but a powerful absence as well. Come to think of it, all this is rather similar what Wall-e was going for, except this movie is nowhere near as flashy, or animated. And has a much darker subject matter.

The second thing that will be very distinctive for this movie, is the look of the ghost. In almost any movie, tv series, what have you, the ghost of a character will look just the same as it did when it was alive, except that nobody could see him/her, and maybe, there would be some special effects to highlight the ghostly condition. Here, the ghost is a white bedsheet thrown on a man, with 2 black spots for eyes. Like something out of a Scooby-do cartoon. And it is the best thing ever. For something that does not speak, has no facial expression and only limited body language capability, this ghost is able to express an impressive array of emotions. It is hard to imagine how a large piece of cloth with 2 spots on can channel so much instead of just looking ridiculous. Yet, it is very effective. Given the minimalistic approach of the movie, the ghost, this blank canvas, becomes a mirror to our own emotions, reactions to the events, to the visuals, to the music. We project ourselves on it, our emotions, yet we cannot act them out as we are only the spectators. In a similar fashion, the ghost, in general, has a static presence through the movie. He mostly observes what is happening around him. An interesting aspect is how time is perceived by the ghost versus the rest of the world. How the world seems to go by, on fast forward. I find it to be very fitting. It can serve as a metaphor of how people feel when somebody close and dear is no longer there, and it also sounds interesting enough to be a ghosts perception of time.

The strangest thing is, that, despite the sad, somber story, it was a joy to watch this movie. I was loving every second of it. And, at least for me, it ended on a very cathartic note. I do not know if the story indeed had a cathartic ending. That is for everybody to decide on its own. I just know that when the end credits were rolling, I was happy.

Ultimately, this movie is a meditation about what comes after death and about grief. About what does it mean to move on. And it is done so in a beautiful way. It is simple in execution but complex in message, artful but subtle. The very proof of the concept “less is more”. Unlike most good movies, this is not a diamond in a rough. This is a carefully polished diamond of the highest quality.

One of the best movies of 2017, easy.

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