Friday, August 4, 2017


This is a movie about time and futility. In one scene we watch as a character eats a large pie with a fork. Oh sit down, it's good.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara (in the credits as C and M) are a young couple in a country house who seem to be in the process of moving. There is an increasing sense that things are not well between them but in one moment of intimacy she tells him that in her childhood home she would write notes on pieces of paper and hide them around the house. It was a way of recording time and life. She wonders what she'd find if she went looking for them.

C dies (no spoilers here, it's very early on). M identifies his body in a hospital and leaves in shock. The body rises from the trolley, draped in the sheet that covers it and begins to walk through the building unnoticed by anyone it meets. The ghost, a man wearing a sheet with eye holes stops at a dead end in the building. The wall in front of him is cut with a sharp light which expands to a doorway. Either too stunned by his new circumstances or unwilling to proceed he doesn't go through. The light vanishes and the ghost moves back home. He haunts his widow but after a very little development along these lines she moves out (not before depositing a note into a crack in the wall and painting over it). Then we begin to understand that this will not play like a hipster update to the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore movie but something quieter, stranger and more profound.

The poster shot of Affleck in the costume, which makes him look like a ghost form an old cartoon, does justice to what you might expect being a blend of whimsy and unease. This disarming idea allows us distance with its goofiness but draws us in through its sincerity. Affleck has a great deal to do between allowing our projections on to his sheet and emoting though action alone as he has no further dialogue outside of flashbacks (and then very little). The thing is, it works.

After more scenes which might suggest a close narrative built on a parade of tenants interacting with the ghost  - including a wonderful party rant by Wil Oldham about futility and time - we see we are in for a very long haul as progress has its way in scenes that speed up decades and then start travelling in directions we don't expect. The distance created between the aspirations of humans, their lives, their loss, their legacy, and the barely conceivable immensity of time itself allows this film, kept within a 133:1 screen and clocking in a 87 minutes (one minute shorter than Eraserhead), to feel like the kind of epics that Christopher Nolan and Terrence Malik have made with far greater means and in grander presentations. The small square image (with rounded corners) and brief running time are very deliberate. The credits run, leaving the viewer with the feeling that they have just sat for three hours as life itself was told in IMAX. If the film itself wasn't seductive by itself this achievement alone should astound us: like the Tardis it is much bigger inside than out.

So, if you hear someone ridiculing the pie eating scene know that they have missed its solid grief. If someone ridicules the bed sheet costume as being precious or cutesy know how hard it is to tell the difference between what we project on to it and what is the craft of the actor beneath it. Finally, if you have any inclination to see this film please go to a cinema to see it: there is so much to gain from seeing a view of such vastness within such a small window.

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