The spirit of Casey Affleck silently watches and follows his unsuspecting wife in A Ghost Story. Does it hit too close to home?
Full disclosure: I have not seen A Ghost Story, which hits theaters this Friday. All I know of it is its trailer, the famous scene in which a grief-stricken Rooney Mara eats a whole pie, and its synopsis:
"“Recently deceased, a white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to console his bereft wife, only to find that in his spectral state he has become unstuck in time, forced to watch passively as the life he knew and the woman he loves slowly slip away.”"
The non-press materials translation: Casey Affleck, donned in a sheet with eye holes cut out (like he’s in the Charlie Brown Halloween special), follows around an unsuspecting Rooney Mara as she mourns and does everyday albeit private things like sleep and shower.
A Ghost Story‘s writer-director David Lowery may not have known that the sexual harassment allegations against Affleck would reappear when he came up with the film and cast its main role. So I don’t believe that Lowery meant for the story to be creepy—at least not in The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” sense. However, in the wake of Affleck’s Oscar win and the renewed attention paid to his reportedly predatory behavior on the set of “I’m Still Here,” a man trailing a woman and generally invading her privacy is a narrative that feels closer to stalking than the logline “an unforgettable meditation on love and grief.”
For the record, I don’t know that Affleck—as he is accused—actually sexually harassed and verbally abused two crew members of his 2010 mockumentary, “I’m Still Here.” But I believe he did. The details of the allegations and the court settlement are available elsewhere, so I won’t unpack them here. Suffice to say that information and our culture’s willingness to ignore women when they speak up is enough to convince me that Affleck isn’t an innocent party.
Even if he is, even if Affleck’s reputation has been wrongfully damaged, A Ghost Story probably won’t exactly sit right with audiences. It hits too close to home; it takes the viewer out of the story. It’s hard not to think about the accusations leveled against Affleck when you see his ghost self spoon Mara as she breaks down in bed. It’s supposed to be a loving gesture, but it just comes off as cringe-worthy. Scratch that. It comes off as a parody of an independent movie starring Casey Affleck that SNL would run in response to news of the scandal.
Even for appreciators of pitch black irony, that’s a lot to take when other, less stomach-churning explorations of relationships like My Cousin Rachel, Band Aid, and The Big Sick are still in theaters.
To be clear, I’m not saying Affleck’s career has been completely derailed. He has an Oscar and pals like Kenneth Lonergan behind him. I would argue that, like Birth of a Nation, this particular movie’s released is doomed. The brutal depiction of rape in Birth of a Nation had unpleasant real world resonance because director and star Nate Parker—often compared to Affleck because their scandals resurfaced during the same awards season—himself has been accused of sexual assault. The Sundance hit was supposed to become a new modern classic but quickly evaporated from the cultural conversation.
I expect something similar will happen with A Ghost Story. The scenes that see Affleck become fixated on a woman and skulk on the periphery of her life just feel too real, like he’s invading another person’s sense of safety. The ghost’s obsession with Mara and inability to let her go are supposed to be romantic and tragic. But when you remember Affleck’s real behavior with women, they actually seem voyeuristic and gross.