“At fifty,” George Orwell opined, “everyone has the face he deserves.” But Orwell died still in his forties. What if you never get the face you deserve? “How can the gods meet us face to face till we have faces?” asked the protagonist of C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces.
The title character in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story has no face. It had a face once, though it was perhaps still a decade or so from full deserving. The last time we see that face, chronologically at least, it is the face of a corpse lying on an embalming table.
A sheet is pulled up, covering the face, and it is never uncovered again, though the title character’s story is just beginning. No: It is not a story, nor a journey, nor anything else implying linear movement or progress. There is a story, but it is not the ghost’s; the story goes on without it. It is the title character, but not the protagonist, for a prot-agonist is the primary contestant or combatant in some conflict, and its struggle is over.
As is often the case with ghosts, there is a love story. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a married couple, known only as C and M, living in a dilapidated ranch house to which C is more attached than M.
One of the film’s themes, expressed in different ways in C and M, is the human desire to leave a mark, to seek one’s future in connections in the past. For C, this means putting down roots, holding onto one’s history; it is also connected to his music.
M has a different approach: She is comfortable leaving a part of herself behind and moving on. In frequent moves in her past, she would write little notes to herself, reminders of who she was at the time, and hide them where they might go unfound for decades, in case she should ever return. But if she does not, who would ever know what it said?
The film sketches their relationship in relaxed, intimate terms: not a perfect relationship, but a deep bond. Watching C and M interact, I wonder where they would be in a decade or so.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.