“The Ghost Story”

Coming from a late morning funeral mass where Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 was read by a dear friend, I found myself mediating on “there is a time for everything” ~even death.

” A time to be born and a time to die…A time to keep and a time to throw away” was still ringing in my ears, when I decided it was time to see the film touted for its own meditation on grief. “The Ghost Story” was more a meditation on place: its evocativeness, its history,its ultimate mystery.

Director David Lowrey uses the story’s circular structure to show us that ghosts reside in the place where they felt most real. Are ghosts nostalgic? This story tells us “yes”. Choir music emphasizes their patience, their somber waiting for a return. Letting go is not as hard as it is impossible when time has no real significance. There is ” no getting on with it”. The “gravitas” of the ennui is like studying the phenomenology of time.

With this said, the film works only as a means of bringing us to the awareness of Virginia Woolf’s world view:” Whatever turn you take, there is a door closing.” Some of the same ghostly tropes of light prisms’ wall-dancing and wisps of fog slowly rolling over terrain are seen, but forward action is confusing when ghosts don’t abide by linear moments.

A young couple, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, are viewed in soft pillow talk and laughter. Breathing the same air, they drift off and a sound awakens them. They investigate, but yield nothing. A train sounds. Then we see them tugging bookcases and filing cabinets to the curb, moving old trunks. A slowly moving dolly-held-camera rolls the action at a snails’ pace.

Early morning work does yield a car wreck right outside the drive. Affeck’s dead head resting on the steering wheel tells us much will change. Rooney’s morgue scene is not as heart-wrenching as Affleck’s previous one in “Manchester By The Sea” ( reviewed December 3rd, 2016),but here we see an almost cartoon image of Affleck’s body rising from the morgue table to a sitting position and remaining the silent narrator for the remainder of the film.

Much has been written about Rooney’s whole pie-eating, succour-striving scene, but it is the ghost’s view of the the prairie family who once camped on his home’s land that draws us into grief. Skeletal remains and decomposed bodies out-rank white-sheeted sadness everytime. I was a tad disappointed with the lack of dramatic anguish. Numb goes only so far. I was content with the absence of any Terry Mallick pretentious pomposity when it came to life and its opposite. A brave, risk-taking treatise, if not the best movie.

“Manchester By The Sea”

Oscar calls! Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck, your grief/love scene will go down in the history of cinema as one of the best ever filmed. You both talked over one another and still struck the perfect cord in selfless emotional giving. I defy anyone not to be moved by the caring pain you showed.

If the biblical Job suffered, Lee Chandler ( Casey Affleck) is Job timed ten. Guilt and family and life-changing events slowly fill the scene in flashback sequences. We get to know this Kenneth Lonergan creation~ a working class handyman whose losses seem insurmountable.

There are two scenes that are so natural and heartfelt that the audience collectively sucked in air. This oxygen boost nearly prepared you for the morgue cart ‘s rolling sound, the clenched hands, the slow walk toward the body, the tentative touch before an endearing one, and then the hug and the final brotherly kiss. Affleck’s swift nose wipe is masterful. He absolutely drains this all too familiar event. Michelle Williams is as master-class perfect: a harpy one minute, a tender apologist the next.

The use of slow-motion, the exquisite score, and the incredible writing all contribute to this  contemporary Greek tragedy. Yet, life’s humor is not forgotten. I can’t remember a film that so nailed the psyche of the teenager: exasperatingly self-centered and childishly sweet, attempting to make sense of life with the bravado of a diva. Lee’s nephew and new charge, Patrick, ( Lucas Hedges) is against moving  an hour and a half away after his father Joe’s ( Kyle Chandler) death. “All my friends are here. I play hockey, am in a band, etc..You are a janitor in Quincy: What the hell do you care where you live!”  As Lee becomes the trustee for a 16 -year-old minor, he is aghast:” I was just the back-up!”  When Lee is berated by a passer-by ( a cameo by Kenneth Lonergan) on his parenting skills.  Patrick quips, ” Are you fundamentally unsound ? ”

When Lee tosses his clothes in a box and then carefully wraps three picture frames in individual cloth like rare gems, we sigh for him. When his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) comes to see him pregnant and moving forward with her life, the woman next to me- a seasoned film-goer of opening nights-  burst out, ” the poor man”.  Believe me, this is an emotionally wrenching film, because it so captures the normal details of life. Writer Lonergan is so observant in his recording of the contemporary experience, that he expects you to be equally alert to the “cold, ‘Keep out’ sign ” that mirrors the numbed psyche of our protagonist. The freezer attack scene is equally disarming. Cold reality and the warmth of the community balance each other.

Suspense and humor and incredulous guilt border “Manchester By The Sea”. Like the old motor on the family boat, a piston is ready to blow.  Three shocking sequences keep the story moving. Besides the central event, one is  in the police station, another at a bar.

Lesley Barbra’s score is lovely. The  Manchester scenery misses “Singing Beach, the mansions, and the stone walls and apple orchards, and the yacht club, but the white frame church steeples, and the middle class areas of North Beverly and Quincy are well portrayed. The harbor and nature’s waves seem like apt metaphors. The daily grind can seem uplifting in comparison to the tragedy life can hold. Laugh when you forget where you have parked your car. And remember that fishing off Misery Island can bolster a smile. Kudos  to a fine film!