Lingering: A Ghost Story. (Non-review movie review!)

A Ghost Story isn’t a horror film, but it’s haunting nonetheless. It’s haunted my thoughts since we first saw it last week.

 

 

Why do some spirits choose an afterlife of haunting?

A Ghost Story  raises a multitude of questions. I might as well start with that one.

As far as haunted house movies go, I’ve never been compelled to consider the fate of the ghost, or how lonely it must be for a ghost tethered to his place of haunting. But then, I’d never seen a haunted house movie from the perspective of the ghost.

It’s a despondent ghost who’s unable to leave his place until he gets his answer, or achieves his goal, whatever that may be. Time glides endlessly and the ghost goes along with it. It’s the only dimension he can traverse.

Watching this movie was a profound cinematic experience.

We begin with a married couple, but we never learn their names. I suppose this is because the humans in their physical bodies are more or less props, there to set in motion a possibly infinite journey. In the middle of the film, another nameless person passes through to hold forth at a social gathering. The scene ends and we never see him again, but we’re left thinking.

We fall deeper into introspection. What does it mean to be alive, to exist? What does it mean to be not-alive?

We witness the pain of grieving, but we feel the ghost’s pain more than the pain of the one still living. It’s the bereft ghost whose story we follow.

A Ghost Story is a ghost’s story, yet the ghost is not the protagonist. If the film has a protagonist, it’s the place to which the ghost is fixed. Or it’s the universe. Or it’s time.

If the ghost has a voice, it’s the sheet he wears, its movement, folds, and appearance; even the shape of its eye-holes as they seem to alter with his emotion. That’s the thing about this ghost: he’s emotional, even to the point of throwing the occasional tantrum. The ghost’s sheet is his voice, and Daniel Hart’s exquisite musical score – the most sorrowful voice in the film – makes it devastating.

Thus, the driving forces of A Ghost Story are inhuman. And yet, in this inhumanity, we perceive the timeless plight of humanity. This is brilliant writing. It’s poetry.

In my humble opinion, writer and director David Lowery succeeded with his experiment in mixing mediums to tell his story. Film as poem, or poem as film? When a work of art is effectively both, it doesn’t matter how you assign its primary medium.

Speaking of mediums, I’ll touch again on the expressiveness of the ghost’s sheet, because its authority is so striking in its simplicity. I was fascinated by the way the ghost stands or sits still and turns only his head to look to the side or back, so the folds of his sheet twist with the turn. The effect is dramatic, and that is the point. Facing forward, but looking elsewhere, the ghost’s sheet conveys that he inhabits temporal realms in a transcendence of future and past. We can perceive the enormity of this by merely looking at the drape of a sheet.

A Ghost Story is a highly visual film. It’s maybe 80% silent movie, if not more so. As the ghost lingers, there’s lingering in the silence; we linger on what there is to see. There’s lingering in the sustained notes of the musical score.

There’s more I could say about the significance of music in this film, on how it helps to speak for the ghost, and why, but I’ll hold back. In this aspect, though, A Ghost Story calls to mind The Piano. In The Piano, the instrument serves as voice for Ada, who can’t speak. Also silent, Ada expresses herself through her music.

Watching A Ghost Story, tears collected in my throat early on, and they stayed there until the end, the aforementioned musical score by Daniel Hart partially responsible, I’m sure.

Callaghan was mesmerized, too. When A Ghost Story was over, we looked at each other at the same time that we both said, “I want to see it again.” And we did see it again. I would see it yet again.

A Ghost Story is a beautiful film, a story to ponder and discuss. It’s an elegant study in the philosophical discipline of metaphysics, and it’s a poem. Maybe more than a moving picture, it’s a moving poem with pictures.

 

Powers that be (Haiku 7: Power)

Questions I asked myself all week: Does power always, in every circumstance, corrupt? Is power breakable? What would it take to break chains of power, and would it take a super hero or a super villain to break them?

In these new haiku, I explore the correlation between power and corruption.

 

Haiku 7: Power

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

Grand tribulation:

oak doors hewn by elected

justice. Reckoning.

 

Power of position

Power of position

 

2.

Preternatural –

czars savoring backfire,

litanies of blood.

 

Power of risk

Power of risk

 

3.

Gold, palladium…

lustrous, incorruptible,

soft nobility.

 

Power of heritage

Power of heritage

 

4.

Ravishing spittoon:

molten glass posterity.

Inheritable.

 

Power of fortune

Power of fortune

 

In a lighter vein, the week wound back down to normalcy after the in-laws departed. It was a good visit. We took them to typical Arizona places (i.e. Tombstone, Sedona), and they ventured down into the Grand Canyon. They saw a fraction of what Arizona has to offer… one really needs more than a week to take in all of its splendors. Our guests enjoyed what little they experienced.

Not Self/less Enough.

thatasianlookingchick.com-SelfLess_movie

 

 

You know how it is when you’re terminally ill and someone slips you a business card offering help, and, despite all the medical expertise your bottomless fortune could buy at the most prestigious of world-class medical facilities, you call the number, thinking that going rogue with your healthcare might resolve your mortality crisis… and if it doesn’t, you have nothing to lose, anyway?

That story.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went with Callaghan and two friends to see the newly released sci-fi action-thriller Self/less (directed by Tarsem Singh) on Saturday, but I’d seen the trailer, and I was intrigued. Though it’s been nearly 20 years since my college metaphysics class, my copy of John Perry’s A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (1978) still occupies a sliver on my bookshelf, and it was partly because of this pamphlet-size book (required reading for the course I needed to complete my philosophy minor) that I wanted to see Self/less.

 

A relic from college metaphysics.

A relic from college metaphysics.

 

Metaphysics had been one of my favorite philosophy courses, and A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality is a text that’s echoed in the ravines of my memory ever since, as personal identity theory interests me greatly. My penchant for sci-fi action-thriller-type movies would have been enough to propel me into the theater for this movie, but academic curiosity heightened my anticipation. What were the writers of Self/less going to do with this challenging metaphysical topic?

Turns out, nothing. The people behind Self/less took on the subject by not taking it on at all. This is anything but a toothsome philosophical study; about a quarter of the way through, I accepted the fact that Self/less is a dumb sci-fi action movie, romping around the casings of the ideas.

But no matter! I was really there for the fun of it and the thrill of an action-packed ride… and sometimes, truth be told, the dumber the sci-fi movie, the more I enjoy it. Before I knew just how insubstantial and mediocre Self/less was going to be, I settled back for good times, but a part of my mind remained occupied, needled by the ghostly recollection of Perry’s book. I made a mental note to pull it down from the shelf when I got home.

An hour later, the credits rolled, the lights came on, and the four of us left the theater somewhat underwhelmed by what we’d just seen. The movie fell short of delivering in the “good times” department, as well.

When I retrieved A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality from my bookshelf the next day, I opened it and read the first sentence to greet my eyeballs:

“Memory is sufficient for identity and bodily identity is not necessary for it. The survivor remembered Julia’s thoughts and actions, and so was Julia.”

Just as I’d thought I’d recalled! I flipped back a few pages, read a little more, and couldn’t help but wonder if the Self/less script-writers had been inspired by Perry’s paper. The story behind the above quote reads:

“Julia North was a young woman who was run over by a streetcar while saving the life of a young child who wandered onto the tracks. The child’s mother, one Mary Frances Beaudine, had a stroke while watching the horrible scene. Julia’s healthy brain and wasted body, and Mary Frances’ healthy body and wasted brain, were transported to a hospital where a brilliant neurosurgeon, Dr. Matthews, was in residence. He had worked out a procedure for what he called a ‘body transplant’. He removed the brain from Julia’s head and placed it in Mary Frances’, splicing the nerves, and so forth, using techniques not available until quite recently. The survivor of all of this was obviously Julia, as everyone agreed – except, unfortunately, Mary Frances’ husband.” 

This, essentially, provides the premise for Self/less. The “body transplant” procedure described in A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality is called “shedding” in Self/less, and Perry’s Dr. Matthews correlates to the Self/less character Albright (Matthew Goode).

In Self/less, the (cleverly named) company offering to perform the body transplant/shedding, Phoenix Biogenic, has made an exclusive private industry of the procedure, available to the 1% who could afford it. The company’s slogan? “Leaders in Consciousness Transfer Technology.”

Consciousness Transfer Technology. The door is open here for a re-con mission into the complexities of mind, consciousness and identity in relation to the body, but mostly what we get is Ryan Reynolds playing a character vacationing in another character’s body until flashes of memory from the original owner of said body clues him into the reality of his situation. A bunch of predictable shit hits the fan. “Soon I’ll be gone,” Damian (Ben Kingsley/Ryan Reynolds) intones toward the end. “I can already feel myself fading.” Our protagonist gallantly bows out after Doing the Right Thing. Imagine that!

All snark aside, I have to say that Self/less deserves points for coming up with the most elaborate suicide I can remember seeing in cinema. The movie encompasses a long, slow self-destruction from beginning to end, with Damian unwittingly employing a convoluted and roundabout method of killing himself. This path proves to be beneficial in allowing him opportunities to tie up some critical loose ends along the way, such as banging a succession of hot chicks in his borrowed body (freshly shedded Damian remarks that his new young and healthy body “has that new-body smell,” and he wastes no time in taking it out for a few joy rides) and delivering a heartfelt letter to his estranged daughter, who believes him to be dead (atonement and closure, check and check).

Self/less wasn’t the worst sci-fi action movie I’ve ever seen… I thought it was marginally better than last summer’s disappointment, Lucy… but I’m thinking it rather dulls the luster on the resumes of some of its talented actors. As Albright astutely remarks, “Immortality has some side effects.”

The First-World Problems of an English Major.

A fact of life: One never knows how many Stephen King books one owns until one moves. And yes, “Stephen King” is an adjective.

Decent progress has been made in the unpacking arena. I’ve now arrived at the books part of it, and… and nothing. I’ve just arrived. And I’ve taken the books out of the boxes – go me! But that’s where my victory dance ends, because now I have to decide how to sort all the books, and for some reason, I’m overwhelmed.

Well, I know why. It’s because this move is the last move for the foreseeable future; as far as I’m concerned, this abode is the forever abode, so my OCD-tendency-leaning self won’t let me get away with shoving books on the shelves every which way “because we’re going to move one day anyway” anymore.

I’ve carried books around with me all of my life. Over the years, I’ve sold, traded, donated and given away hundreds of books. I’ve lost some; I’ve “lent” some. But somehow, I still always move with at least ten good-size boxes of books.  My current collection includes some that I’d left in France (a pile of Shakespeare and some Russian lit, some of them duplicates, mysteriously enough) in my attempt to bring down the weight of our overseas shipping, and I have a small stack set aside for a garage sale we’re planning in the upcoming weeks. Still, I’m now confronted by piles like this:

 

Book piles in the living room.

Book piles in the living room.

 

And this:

 

Piles of books on the desk in the guest bedroom.

Piles of books on the desk in the guest bedroom.

 

And that’s not all of it. I also have a pile of books about Buddhism/eastern philosophy beneath the Butsudan, a pile of cookbooks tucked away in the kitchen, a pile of random books on the big bookcase in the dining area and a smattering of books in my office. And these are all just my books we’re talking about… Callaghan, too, has lots of books in his office.

This is what the inside of my mind looks like when I’m standing before these books:

Should I group them by century? Should I separate the American lit from the British lit? Should I separate them by century and group the Americans and Brits within the centuries? Should I group all the anthologies together, or should I put the poetry anthologies in the poetry section? Should I mix the pocket-size books with the trade paper and hardcover books? If I lump all the pocketbooks together, should I organize them by genre, or alphabetically by author, or both? Should I categorize the books by genre, only? Should I nest genres within nationalities within centuries (i.e. 19th-century British Romantics)? Should I mesh poetry and prose within those groupings, or should I keep poetry and prose separate? And which groups should I position where in the bookcase? Should I group the Russian lit alongside the British lit alongside the American lit, or would the Russian lit make more sense neighboring the philosophy section? Should I line the entire top of the bookshelves with poetry volumes, using them to bridge the two? Should I shelve the poets in alphabetical order? How should I organize the poetry… by era, or by style? If the era and style are inseparable (as with the confessionalists, the post-modern poets, the New York School, the avant-garde imagists, the Black Mountain poets, etc.), should I attempt to merge all the books similarly? What about my textbooks and essays about poetry and prose… should I put them with their authors, or in a category of their own? Should I put the surrealism section next to the magical realism section, or should I put the surrealists next to the poets? Should I put the biographies and autobiographies of poets and authors with the books those poets and authors have authored, or should I make a separate category for biographies and autobiographies? What about the smaller sections like classical Greek lit, medieval lit and non-Shakespearean drama? Should I separate Shakespeare’s poetry from his dramas, or keep them all together in the Elizabethan section? (Would it be weirder to have a poetry section without Shakespeare’s poems, or to have a Shakespeare section without his poems?) What about the contemporary literature? The non-fiction? Should I separate the political non-fiction from the general non-fiction? What about creative non-fiction? What about my western religious texts? The feminist texts? Should I group my books in French together, separate from the books in English, or should I merge them?

Etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

I’ve been staring at these piles of books for a few days now.

I’ve already decided to put reference books and instructional books, including all of my French grammar books and dictionaries, in the big bookshelf in the dining area.

I’m hoping that somehow, my collections of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Lee Child, J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice and the like, along with random other books, will all fit in the tall, narrow bookcase in the guest bedroom. I like the idea of stocking that room with brain candy for visitors who are on vacation (Callaghan’s going to add some books in French for our visitors from France).

None of these considerations came into play in the apartment we’d just vacated. I knew it was temporary, so I created double rows of books in some parts and didn’t care that the ones in the back rows weren’t visible. In this house, though, I want to be able to see every single book, and I want to be able to find books easily. In the past, I’d typically arranged books alphabetically, by author. I’m craving that level of organization in my life again because I’m craving rootedness. I feel like if my books are in order, then my life will be in order. When I was a kid in grade school, some of my friends used to tease me about my reading, saying, Kristi’s going to turn into a book! Maybe that’s finally happened.

On that note, I’m off to spend the day away from the office, going to appointments, seeing people, running errands, and so on. Happy Friday, All!