“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.

“Carol”

“Carol” begins with  train roll noises. We see a black screen and know symbolic connections are being made. We see a grid that could be a circuit board transmuting electrical charges;then we see a woman’s pump, and we now recognize a shoe-scrapping metal mat. Sensually charged,someone is stepping in it.

The cinematography of sixty-seven-year-old Edward Lachman is picture perfect. He seems to know the 1950’s and adjusts the camera to define  every detail from gloved hand and brightly painted nails to white-walled tires and broken and scotch-taped crayons. The interiors of swank hotels and fussy department stores mesh with martinis and Betsy Wetsy and Madame Alexander dolls. We feel nostalgic for cameras that are not digital and real film with notches.

Cate Blanchett is a marvel of upper class aplomb. Her furs, her scarlet wool coat, the flip of her hair with her hand, and her incessant smoking blows through Lachman’s frames. Forbidden feelings she seems to have made peace with: Cate is an easy Carol. Alligator purses and a  Seventh Avenue Rolls and a ten year marriage , soon to be dissolved, outline her world. Her backstory of earlier intimate female relationships allows us to feel her repression. Her psychological counseling for her “aberrant behavior” is  talked about amid white-tablecloth-dining and her in-laws. As much as I liked Blanchett in this role, I feel Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl” will win the Oscar instead of Cate’s Carol. She just makes it look too easy, like she is playing herself !

Rooney Mara deserves the Oscar win for “Best Supporting Actress” . As the young shopgirl, Therese Belivet, Mara portrays a range of emotions from infatuation, insecurity, devotion, misgivings, desire and devastation and guilt. When boyfriend Richard asks for her hand in eloping to Paris, she answers, ” How can I. I barely know what to order for lunch.”  There is a sadness in her voice like she is being rushed to make life choices.   Feeling  forced to follow Hoyle feels foreign . Mara with her Audrey Hepburn/Audrey Tautou facial innocence pulls this off beautifully. The magnetic looks between Carol and Therese ready us for their trance-like,closeted 1950’s dance of hair and breath.

The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy is helped by Carter Burwell’s  gorgeous score. The lyrics of Billy Holiday like   “I can’t resist you. Your heart is what I desire. There is nothing in life but you.” meld with  the  characters’ angst. “Silver Bells” fits their road trip West like their Samsonite cases that snuggle in the car’s trunk.  Nagy’s dialogue is insightful and to the point. Characters don’t babble. Carol’s lesbian friend ‘s ,”She is young. Tell me you know what you are doing?”  is an example. Anfother is Carol’s , “It is not your fault. I took what you gave willingly.” Period vocabulary like “ice box” and  ” bell-hop”  and “tomato aspics” are all classic period fare. The question, “How is that working for you?” not so much. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, “The Price Of Salt”, the screenplay follows Carol and Therese’s romance and keeps us guessing how it will end.

Director Todd Haynes makes certain that  key  scenes  are given real import, like where Therese vomits when she is physically shattered by the loss Carol must endure . Carol’s voiceover of “you seek resolutions because you are young” carries great weight.  Probably more than “She is gone. She is not coming back.”  Their “Waterloo” is in Waterloo, Iowa, by the way.

Viewers will be surprised at least twice in this film. Carol’s husband Harge ( Kyle Chandler)  provides the gasps. While the tightly wound denouement comes full circle, viewers will be more shocked by ” morality clauses” than by patterns of behavior. The dramatic tension is not released until the very end. This is a subtle film beautifully made and terrifically acted.