In Theaters

What happens after we die? Some might say that’s the ultimate mystery. There has been much speculation on the subject, and, because of such phenomena as near death experiences and after-death communications, a variety of views have emerged. Some see it traditionally, while others view it as a different state of existence that operates according to a different set of rules. In light of that, then, perhaps a more appropriate inquiry than what happens might be what does it mean to be dead? That’s a question wrestled with in the intriguing new mystical drama, “A Ghost Story” (web site, trailer).

As a young composer (Casey Affleck) and his significant other (Rooney Mara) debate the future of their living arrangements, the songwriter is tragically killed in a car accident just steps from his home driveway. His stunned, grieving partner is left even more uncertain about what now lies ahead for her, but she tries to carry on despite the unexpected circumstances. But, as bewildered as she is, her deceased counterpart is even more baffled, unsure how to proceed now that he’s on the other side of life. With no clear idea what to do, the now-sheet-covered spirit leaves the morgue where he was pronounced dead and returns to the residence he shared with his other half, a place he obviously loved, in part for the sense of history he felt was associated with it.

A songwriter (Casey Affleck, right) and his significant other (Rooney Mara, left) contemplate the future of their living arrangements – and eventually of existence – in the new mystical drama, “A Ghost Story.” Photo by Bret Curry, courtesy of A24.

Upon arrival at “home,” the wandering spirit watches what unfolds there in his absence from corporeal existence. He witnesses his beloved struggle to get her life together, an effort that proves difficult for her given the “ghosts” that figuratively haunt her and keep her from moving forward. In fact, it becomes so difficult that she eventually moves out, seeing it as the only way to make any progress. This gesture, however, leaves her departed alone and confused, not sure what to do next.

Before long, the house has new residents, a single mother (Sonia Acevedo) and her two children (Carlos Bermudez, Yasmina Gutierrez), a development that troubles its apparitional occupant. In fact, in pure ghostly fashion, he switches to haunting mode and drives them from the house. However, even though that forces them from the premises, it doesn’t keep others from moving in. The resident spirit discovers this when a new set of tenants moves in and throws a big party, a celebration with more guests than the house phantom can possibly scare off.

However, in a curious way, the party proves to be an enlightening, catalytic moment for the event’s noncorporeal guest. He listens intently as a prognosticating partygoer (Will Oldham) pontificates about his views on the nature of life, death, legacy, remembrance and a whole host of other related topics. It gives the unseen visitor pause to contemplate where he is, why he’s there and what lies ahead, launching him into an odyssey across a variety of temporal and dimensional realities and raising all sorts of possibilities involving considerations as diverse as choice, self-awareness and personal destiny. At this point, the key question begins to turn from “what does it mean to be dead?” to “what does it mean to be ourselves?”

A lost spirit seeks to find its way through the afterlife in director David Lowery’s new mystical drama, “A Ghost Story.” Photo by Bret Curry, courtesy of A24.

I struggled a bit in evaluating “A Ghost Story.” It’s the kind of movie that, if you’re well-versed in philosophy, spirituality and metaphysics, you’ll probably love it. Its presentation of such concepts as simultaneous time, detachment from outcomes (and, conversely, the disappointment of attachment), free will, spontaneous manifestation, eternal recurrence, the materialization of beliefs and many others is deftly handled, effectively shown rather than told in a manner that’s almost poetic thanks to its atmospheric production design, minimalist dialogue, inventive cinematography, skillful editing and ethereal soundtrack. There are also cinematic and narrative homages to a number of other films, such as “What Dreams May Come” (1998), “The Tree of Life” (2011) and “Always” (1989), and filmmakers, including the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick.

However, if you’re unfamiliar with these concepts, you’ll likely come away from this one with a decidedly puzzled expression. Now, while it’s certainly laudable that the director has aspired to make a picture that appeals to an intellectual and enlightened audience, the finished product could also be seen as an exercise in viewer frustration, one that capably preaches to the choir but fails to make new converts. What’s more, despite the film’s aforementioned strengths, it also suffers from a few weaknesses, such as several grossly overlong sequences (a fast forward remote would come in handy at times) and a pair of leads whose allegedly “subtle,” “nuanced” performances are euphemisms for bland portrayals that are often about as appealing as a bowl of cold porridge.

So, with that said, I give “A Ghost Story” a highly conditional, much qualified recommendation. If you’re well read on the subject, enjoy this one and relish everything it has to offer. On the other hand, if you’re not up to snuff on the subject matter, give this one a pass – or pick up a good philosophy book and start reading.

A complete review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

Here Comes The Cinema Scribe!

I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new Internet radio segment, “The Cinema Scribe,” on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, a production of Project Bring Me 2 Life, a multifaceted web organization presenting a variety of information about metaphysics, philosophy, spirituality, music and art. A preview of the segment will air this Wednesday, July 19 at 12:30 pm ET, with new episodes beginning on August 2. The Cinema Scribe will run twice a month on the first and third Wednesday.

So what is this new feature about? Unlike my continuing “Movies with Meaning” segment on Frankiesense & More radio, which presents reviews of a variety of films and other movie-related information, each episode of “The Cinema Scribe” will focus on a single release, either in theaters or on one of the on-demand viewing options, probing the featured offering in depth.

For details on upcoming segments, visit the Project Bring Me 2 Life web site, or follow the organization’s posts on Facebook. Details will also be featured on the Facebook pages of my books, Get the Picture and Consciously Created Cinema.

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Flowers” (“Loreak”)

In a world filled with coldness and cynicism, acts of unsolicited kindness have, unfortunately, come to be seen by many as anomalous gestures, deeds almost to be viewed with suspicion. It’s truly sad that we’ve reached such a point, one where we question the sincere altruism of others, convinced that there must be an agenda behind those actions. But need it be that way? That’s one of the key questions posed in the meditative Spanish drama, “Flowers” (“Loreak”) (web site, trailer), now available on DVD.

When Ane Goñi (Nagore Aranburu) starts receiving weekly floral deliveries from an anonymous source, she’s perplexed but pleased. Given the personal rough patch she’s going through, brought on by early onset menopause and the general indifference of her husband, Ander (Egoitz Lasa), she’s happy to benefit from the joy the flowers bring her. Still, she’s curious to find out who’s sending them, especially when she learns it’s not from Ander, who himself is somewhat indignant that a stranger is showing his wife such attention.

Not long thereafter, however, the flower deliveries inexplicably stop. Curiously, this development, along with several other surprise revelations, coincide with the accidental death of a co-worker, Beñat Sanz (Josean Bengoetxea), whom she barely knew. Could he have been the source of the flowers? But, if so, why? After all, Beñat seems to have had enough problems of his own, trapped in a marriage to an often-agitated wife, Lourdes (Itziar Ituño), who frequently quarreled with his mother, Tere (Itziar Aizpuru), leaving him haplessly caught between the two.

After investigating matters further, Ane comes to believe that Beñat was indeed responsible for the flowers, and she’s now anxious to return the favor by leaving bouquets as a sort of makeshift memorial at the site of the car accident that killed him. She then finds herself befriending members of Beñat’s family, except, of course, for Lourdes, who can’t fathom why anyone would engage in such selfless gestures toward her deceased husband and his relatives – especially when she can’t bring herself to do the same.

Ane Goñi (Nagore Aranburu), who once received flower deliveries from an anonymous source to cheer her up, returns the favor to honor the memory of the person she believed sent them in the thoughtful meditation, “Flowers” (“Loreak”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Acts as simple as sending flowers and extending common courtesies might not seem like much, but they serve as catalysts to help awaken emotions long dormant in many of us. They illustrate what it means to be kind to someone else, even if we don’t know them, just because it’s the right thing to do. They’re not actions to be questioned or looked upon with circumspection; they’re to be recognized and celebrated for what they are – gestures of goodwill, well-being and thoughtfulness. We could all learn a lot from such generosity.

“Flowers” is a gem of a film, one that may be a little difficult to find but one that’s well worth the effort. This Basque language picture features gorgeous cinematography, an intriguing story line that will keep viewers continually guessing and an excellent cast, many of whom deliver what should have been award-worthy performances (especially Ituño and Aizpuru). But, most of all, the empathy this thoughtful picture evokes, one would hope, should inspire us all.

A full review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.