Movie reviews are not really my “thing,” but an exception for “A Ghost Story” is in order. <spoiler alert: if you want to see this movie without knowing what will happen next, stop now unless you have already seen it.>
“A Ghost Story,” hereafter AGS, is painful to watch, and so slow in places that I almost walked out two or three times. What stopped me was that I was in the theater by myself, except for one drunk couple near the front and far away from my back row seat, and could whip out my cell phone and check the plot summaries replete with “spoilers” to decide whether or not to stay.
Once I knew the direction of the plot, I decided to stay. I wanted to see how the later scenes were done, and they did get better, the best being the scene with the “Prognosticator.” (More about that in a moment.)
I am not writing about it to say how miserable it is, though it is miserable. (Well produced, but truly unpleasant at times, particularly the “pie eating” scene) Nor am I writing to say how painful it is, though it is painful. (You know it will be painful, and probably slow, when the “critics” love it. They tend to love movies the rest of us hate.)
My inspiration arises from the fact that this movie lands squarely on top of a stack of related issues I have been writing about over the past few years, roughly since 2008 and more so recently. As some might say, “it hits home.”
I think that the one article of mine that AGS is closest to is this one: “And when I die….” But “It is too bad for the wood which finds itself a violin” and “Je est un autre” cover the same themes in other ways. (Worthy of note is that the main character, played by a combination of Casey Affleck and some guy in a sheet, is a gifted but frustrated musician. Hmm. Sound familiar, at least on the “frustrated” part?)
Part of me thinks that, somehow, the writings I have written on my blogs might survive as long as 2050, or maybe longer, and reach out to a kindred spirit, or spirits, after I am dead (or very old). This is, in a sense, a “legacy” that I am producing anonymously and specifically for anyone who might see the world, and particularly astrology and metaphysics, as I do.
In the movie, after a series of occupants, his home is bulldozed. He is dead; his wife/widow moved away long ago, and supposedly it should not matter. But, you know it does. In terms of symbols, you learn this because of the one last key message from his wife that is lost when the home, and the neighborhood, is bulldozed to make way for a collection of inner city skyscrapers.
We are spared the issues of people growing old by having the “ghost,” and protagonist, die at a young age in an automobile accident. Many of us, myself included, fear growing old. The “guardianship” system is notorious for corruption, particularly in smaller towns and cities where it is not closely monitored, and landmark court cases have emerged regarding people who were, effectively, imprisoned in nursing homes. (As one of MANY examples, see this article and this one and this one and especially this site. This one too.) Don’t get me wrong; I think the guardianship system is a good idea in an abstract sense. It is just the execution of that idea that has been terribly flawed at times and is in need of closer monitoring.
I have to wonder how many were not able to break free from nursing home confines who did not want to be there, and I am particularly suspicious of the new “Silver Alerts” we have in Texas. They may be warranted in some, maybe many, circumstances, but if it is being used as part of imprisonment of people in nursing homes, then it stinks.
I think that the threshold requirements for the system are too low. A “physician’s letterhead” should not be sufficient as a minimum requirement. Independent evaluation by a mental health professional not connected to the nursing home should be required additionally. (After all, if the physician signing the letter profits from the monthly income resulting from the resident continuing to
be incarcerated live there then an obvious conflict of interest exists. Buddies (meaning physicians all part of the same practice) should be excluded, also.)
Knowing what I know, and seeing what I have seen, it worries me. Have you? What about others who have escaped nursing homes when detained against their will? How many of us meet that fate, with our possessions stripped from us (and used to pay the “fees” of those who took them from us) and our voices silenced as we are imprisoned by a corrupt system?
In this movie, we are spared that set of issues that would result in an even more painful movie. This movie shows the widow mourning but who eventually finds someone new, leaving the home when an angry and vengeful ghost causes a bit too much disruption. She is gone, forever, never to be seen again. He loses her a second time.
How should we feel about such things? I cannot say I have the answer. I can say that if I outlive my sweetheart then I have no plans to connect with anyone else. She was hard enough to find the first time, and I was not the easiest person to live with when I was younger, far worse now.
I have visions of my WordPress blogs being “bulldozed” in some way the same as the house in the movie, or the fate of the old “Geocities” sites, if you prefer. If that happens, then my legacy is lost and the messages I have written will never make it to intended recipients.
This is a theme, too. People who are alive writing messages that may or may not be seen by intended recipients, like the other ghost that shows up who is “waiting for them” and who vanishes once she decides “I guess they are not coming.”
Her backstory is told, or hinted at, when we see a massacre of a family in the past. Nothing is fair or just or decent about it. No justice is ever had, she does not even receive a burial with her remains disintegrating into the ground that eventually becomes the home for the other characters.
I have seen it in my own life. Profoundly evil people routinely get away with the most despicable of acts. If you don’t believe me, then ask around. Or, live life long enough. Or watch the daily news.
But the essence of the movie, for anyone who needs a summary, is found in a fairly long monologue by the red bearded bald guy, identified as the “Prognosticator” (mentioned earlier) in the credits and played by actor Will Oldham. Oldham does a good job on the role, playing someone who is a bit of a pretentious bastard at a party, spouting a very bleak truth, a “nihilist” one some have claimed, that stands in complete contrast to the drunken party surrounding him. The ghost cannot resist having a bit of fun with the partygoers, including the Prognosticator.
This monologue is important for anyone trying to make sense of the somewhat disjointed story. We are seeing pieces of tales across time, and what seems important in each tale, including the death of an entire frontier family in a massacre, simple vanishes in meaning and, disturbingly, importance with enough passage of time.
If you have ever stood in a graveyard and taken a hard look at the headstones of your ancestors (I have) then you have probably had a similar feeling (I have). I recall it clearly. Past a point, I just did not know the people there. I had heard tiny bits and pieces of stories about them, but most of those stories die with the ones who told the tales, dead themselves now. And vivid memories of those I did know will die with me. Nothing will be left except the headstones and the remains underneath them. The joys and sorrows and accomplishments and injustices all die with them. The same will be true when I am gone.
And, some day, the graveyard itself may no longer be cared for, memories of all forever extinguished and the last remaining remnants abandoned.
Gone, silenced in the ice of death symbolized by Scorpio, Pluto, and the 8th House in astrology, never to be heard again. Will they rise on “Judgment Day”? Some believe that. I am quite reluctant to do so myself. I think the prognosticator is right. We really know nothing of Beethoven except through his works and snippets of history. The rest is gone.
The same is true for me personally. As long as these writings exist on some server somewhere, some tiny piece of my essence lives. But when the “bulldozer” of economic expediency demolishes that, as happened with Geocities, then even that piece is gone forever. That is another death, the one Pisces represents. It is the death of communities into ghost towns, cemeteries and graveyards abandoned, and entire civilizations like the Maya and Aztecs vanishing in the mists of time.
As an aside, astrology has three “deaths” (each one symbolized by water): the death of childhood is symbolized by Cancer, which is, oddly, also the symbol of the mother. Cancer is also both home and grave, both of which we leave to become an adult as Leo could symbolize. Scorpio is the death of individuals, the soldiers and spies who die to support the marching centaur armies of Sagittarius in foreign lands. And Pisces is the death of communities and civilizations, yielding to a more profound birth (or rebirth) in Aries, the primal spark. This movie is smart enough to capture the latter two.
But, the prognosticator is right, at least if mainstream “science” is right. One day the Earth itself will end, no longer habitable for any number of reasons ranging from “climate change” to the Sun becoming a red giant / white dwarf. The universe itself will either collapse on itself or reach the more dreaded “heat death” of an “open” universe. In either case, any remnants or shreds of our “legacy” will be gone, eradicated, as the “Prognosticator” indicates in his monologue. AND, I think that this is really the main point of the movie.
It is a tough movie to watch, and, again, I almost walked out several times. You will have to decide for yourself whether or not you want to sit through it; it is painful! But it is food for thought. And, you might want to see it, if you want to see how someone expressed these complex ideas and thorny issues in cinema. If that is true, then I recommend it.