A Ghost Story: A Recollection of Memory and Legacy

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The places we've lived represent memory.

I've lived in the same house all my life. As a kid, I always wondered what it would be like to move away. But I never did. And by growing up in the same city, the concept of "home" has been forever engrained in me. Nearly all the memories of my life so far, can be connected in some way or another to my home.

I recently just watched David Lowery's amazing "A Ghost Story," and I was extremely moved by the nostalgic tone and the deep meaning behind it. (See the trailer below). 

The story is about a deceased husband (C), who comes back as a ghost to haunt his suburban home while his wife (M) copes with his loss.  From there, we are taken on a cosmic adventure through time, that explores mortality and what we leave behind as legacy.

 

Unescapable death is what causes us to grasp for legacy.

Everywhere we go, we leave some mark on existence as a whole. Every person we meet. Every decision we make. It's a terrifying thought, that everything you do makes an interminable mark on time itself.  Regardless of natural repercussions we leave on this planet, everyone wants to leave something meaningful before they die.  In one scene, there is a monologue by a house guest, played by Will Oldham, talking about existence and the universe. "A writer writes a novel, a songwriter writes a song, we do what we can to endure...We build our legacy piece by piece and maybe the whole world will remember you or maybe just a couple of people, but you do what you can to make sure you're still around after you're gone." This idea is somewhat birthed out of a naturalistic worldview, but it stands as a central theme in the film.

A writer writes a novel, a songwriter writes a song, we do what we can to endure
— Prognosticator, A Ghost Story (2017)
 David Lowery and Casey Affleck on the set of "A Ghost Story."

David Lowery and Casey Affleck on the set of "A Ghost Story."

Powerful simplicity is one of the most amazing tools in filmmaking.

This film was so remarkable and emotional the first time I saw it. I absolutely loved the film's quiet nature, limited dialogue, and extremely long takes; even a 6 minute take where Rooney Mara is grieving by eating a full pie. Many people complained about this uncomfortably long scene, but I realized for someone who has lost someone so close to them, they must know what it's like to just sit there, by yourself, in the silence, just eating, and not doing anything else. It's not a romanticized grief that's shown in so many other films. It's just a haunting quiet stillness. The film is shot in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with rounded corners, giving it a filmic vibe, as if it was shot on an old home film camera: adding even more to the nostalgia. Every scene in this film is filled with such strong, but subtle emotion. 

 My favorite still from "A Ghost Story."

My favorite still from "A Ghost Story."

 

Leaving the ghost behind.

This shot represents perfectly the film as a whole. M is leaving her old house (and in the process, somewhat leaving the memory of her late husband). She's moving on with a mind stained by the memory of her husband that will forever be connected to that road, neighborhood, and house. This image of the ghost gazing at her driving away, possibly represents what she is viewing in her own mind. The film is so hauntingly emotional; it not only makes you question the brevity of life, but also think about the the people you love, and the very nature of time itself.

Why Going to the Movies Alone is a Lost Art

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I used to be afraid of going to the movies alone.

Okay, maybe not afraid. More "weirded out" would be the right term. For my whole life, I've loved film; it's my passion. But it wasn't until last December that I went alone for the first time to see the spectacular The Disaster Artist in a full theater. Needless to say, it was probably one of the best movie-going experiences of my life thus far. So why is it that we don't normally go to the movies alone? Obviously, there is the sociological aspect (or fear of being seen alone), but I've noticed there's more to this paradox than meets the eye...

 

People don't want to critically evaluate others' ideas and world-views.

This is a bold statement, but for a long time now, many people have thought of film as just mere entertainment. It's not. It is a vibrant platform for philosophy. Film (for the most part) represents world-views from all walks of life. It is an excellent portrayal of the human experience; even down to certain aspect ratios and 24fps (the way the human eye actually perceives reality). It really only becomes mere entertainment when it becomes mindless: the way most people like it. 

I recently watched a film by Brett Hayley entitled The Hero. In this film, Sam Elliot plays Lee, a dying, washed up Hollywood western star. In one scene, Lee is about to tell his friend Jeremy about a dream he had, until Jeremy shuts him down. He says, "It just doesn't interest me, man. Think about it. I mean, it's your dream." Lee's bushy mustache frowns at him until he says, "So what about movies? Do they interest you?" Jeremy immediately says, "Yeah, I love movies." And without a moment of hesitation, Lee says, "Movies are other people's dreams." Lee's friend, Jeremy, represents the vast majority of consumers; they are exactly that...they consume movies. I'm convinced that if a project has more producers, a bigger studio, and even a higher budget, it all contributes to less authenticity and more creative disability. The original concept dilutes to the producers'/studio's less-involved opinions and decisions. 

Movies are other people’s dreams
— Lee Hayden, The Hero (2017)

So how does this relate to the topic at hand? Many people don't want to critically evaluate others' stories, ideas, and world-views. They want to be presented with a straightforward, easy-to-swallow story that meets their expectations with plenty of clichés and a blissful ending. If you watch a limited release indie film, that is beloved by critics, (i.e. this year's You Were Never Really Here or First Reformed), I can promise you will be very uncomfortable by the slow pacing, and the haunting atmosphere of the films. But in the end, your jaw will be dropped and you will be left with some tough themes to analyze for yourself. 

 

When You Get Out of The Theater.

Let's say you go to see a movie with a group of friends. The movie ends. The credits roll. And now you're walking out to the parking lot. You are all talking about the movie; some of your friends liked it, you personally hated it, and everybody is chit-chattering about their opinions.

Now picture yourself at the movie alone. You exit the theater. You use the restroom (because let's be honest, who doesn't need to use the restroom at the end of a movie). Then you walk out to the parking lot, and now you're sitting in your car...in complete silence. It's just you and your raw thoughts that begin bubbling to the surface.  Nothing to influence or distract you from your original reaction.

 

I Dare You.

Go to the movies alone. Take your mind on a date. See a limited release or an indie film that you wouldn't normally see.

Take your mind on a date.

We are all lonely sometimes. But I've realized that going to the movies alone is not a lonely experience. Watching other people's dreams is hardly a lonely experience. It's an intimate experience. And that's what makes your seemingly lonesome trip to the movie theater worth it.