David Lowery’s new film A Ghost Story inspires lots of questions about life, death, yearning, and mourning. But mostly, people here at the Sundance Film Festival just want to talk about Rooney Mara and the pie.
The film casts Mara and Casey Affleck as … well, I’m presuming they’re a young married couple, but Lowery’s languorous film doesn’t get too concerned with the details, identifying their lead characters in the end credits as only “M” and “C.” They live in an old house that C loves but M would rather forsake for a city apartment, and just as she’s convinced him to move out, C is killed in a car accident. Now a ghost, C perversely gets his wish to remain at home: He haunts M as she tries to move on, and stays rooted to the spot after she departs and, over the years, new tenants move in and out. Unable or unwilling to head to a higher plane, C’s ghost continues to haunt that single parcel of land even as the old house is razed and, in what could be decades or centuries later, futuristic skyscrapers dot the land where his home once stood.
Also, the ghost is just Casey Affleck covered in a white sheet with cutout eyeholes.
I told you there was a lot to discuss! And because Lowery approaches the material with such ambiguity, and Affleck’s mute sheet-ghost provides a literal blank canvas for you to project your own thoughts onto, the movie has proved to be one of Sundance’s most intriguing entries.
Still, people mostly just want to talk about the pie. There’s a scene after C’s death where he watches impassively at home as M returns from what we presume is his funeral. She finds a pie in the kitchen left by a well-meaning friend, retrieves a fork, and stress-eats nearly the entire pie in two long shots — one where she’s standing, and one where she’s slumped on the floor — that total about five minutes.
American audiences unused to such sustained takes of characters doing very little will find the pie scene to be a make-or-break flash point, though I thought it was oddly suspenseful. Rooney attacks that pie like a cake person, engineering such unusual fork scoops (she stabs the pie at least four times before each bite) that I started to wonder whether the actress had even ever seen a pie before. We all do weird things when dealing with grief, but I was tickled by the fact that Mara’s bizarre pie-eating method still managed to leave the crust mostly intact: Even when she’s plunging deep into character, Rooney Mara is not going to touch a carb.
As Lowery said after the film’s second screening, he had to approach the two shots that comprise the scene carefully. “The first one, we did two takes of, and she took a couple bites in each one,” he said. “Then she sat down, and that [shot] was one take. We were like, ‘Keep going until you can’t eat anymore.’ The script said she eats the whole thing. I think she had a couple bites left, but we’d tortured her long enough.”
Does this unusual gambit work? Your mileage may vary, but I found the whole thing awfully tasty.