A Ghost Story

a beautiful, almost “perfect” demonstration & exploration of grief that is ultimately undermined by its own crude, rudimentary misinterpretation of existentialism. if you’re going to very pointedly include a shot of Nietzsche’s texts, maybe don’t reduce his philosophy to some annoying, patronizing, overwhelmingly pretentious Dude Bro at an otherwise engaging party scene. don’t profess that “NOTHING MATTERS” because “GOD IS DEAD.” as soon as the film moves away from its individual project of singular grief towards universalizing some great anxiety about significance & lasting importance, it becomes self-indulgent and labored. i really fucking wish that one man wasn’t given that one monologue that seemed to spell out what the film believed its own task to be. even if that’s what A Ghost Story was created with in mind, i wish Lowery hadn’t flashed his hand so obviously.

but as much as i find fundamentally wrong about the film’s own vault at meaning, i really did love this. everything before the party scene materializes Didion’s “ordinary instant” intimately and unflinchingly. A Ghost Story is not about the wound; it is about the scar. the long, empty, silent moments after someone is gone. the routine, which is irrevocably changed, but still somehow exactly the same. the passing seasons, the familiarity of a house that is no longer a home, the permanence of no return. i had heard so much before about Rooney Mara eating almost that entire pie in one shot — and i mean, that is itself a tender & important demonstration of grief — but what is even more beautiful, in my opinion, is everything before it. when Mara walks into the house and just moves around the kitchen… it’s so obvious her mind is elsewhere, that her body is barely there. the monotonous, automatic momentum of the body & life after loss is at once banal and extraordinary. grief is performative, even when there seems to be no one else watching. i’d argue that there is always someone, or something, watching. in A Ghost Story, that something manifests as a sheeted figure; really, though, i think even when you’re alone with your sorrow, you are being watched by the material world around you, surrounding you, engulfing you; the world just happens to watch with a disinterested gaze. that is not to say that grief or life or loss or joy are insignificant or meaningless. really i think it is the opposite… that we have any such capacity to love, or to think, or to mourn, or to remember — that is something. how much that something matters, or means, or endures is indeterminate. but i do think it counts for something, sometimes even a great something.

i think it is more productive, if not also more accurate, to think of Nietzsche in terms of art as joyous hope. whatever “life is not fair & that’s fair” claims Nietzsche made may be existential in theory, but they are not necessarily nihilistic. once the self is destroyed, we can do anything. there is liberation in not needing to pursue a great, absolute “Truth.”

“At this point we need to take a bold run-up and vault into a metaphysics of art."

that is, we can use art to create our own versions of ourselves. when we understand our own meaninglessness, we don’t just stop at “well your children are all gonna die and then the universe will explode and become an unseeable speck and that’s that!” instead, we can make ourselves into what we want. we can remember what we want. we can grieve and love at the same time. we can remember and we can move on at the same time. we learn to fill the silence, the space, the time that was once occupied by what we could never keep forever. there is so much resilience and ugliness and unfairness in loss. but the impermanence of life does not undermine the beauty of it. the haunting is not the tragedy: it’s the beauty, the mark that we were ever here at all, by mistake or miracle, by chance or choice. the scar that lingers after the letters and homes and families and friends and books and music — that’s us, more than anything. we were here. our being here mattered because we were. that’s the story that will get told by the abyss back to the abyss, i think. that’s what i choose to believe.

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