The passage of time has always fascinated Lowery. Living in New Zealand and working on “Pete’s Dragon,” he became increasingly preoccupied with the inevitable dissolution of all things. “Over the past two years I’ve thought a lot about the idea that, one day, it will all be meaningless and evaporate,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of trouble dealing with that.”
Perhaps this concern grows out of the pace at which his life has radically changed. Nine years ago, he was living out of his car. Last summer, he directed a Disney movie starring Robert Redford. In eight weeks, he will start shooting the legendary actor’s final film. Time is relentless. One day, the universe will finish stretching its legs and shrink back to a blip that’s roughly a million billion times smaller than a single atom. Movies won’t matter then — not even “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”
So, on the evening of June 8th (or was it the morning of June 9th?), Lowery sat in a Los Angeles production facility and completed work on the massive Disney tentpole that had consumed his life for more than two years. And then, before sunrise on June 12th, he quietly began shooting footage of Casey Affleck walking through an empty Texas house with a white sheet over his head.
It wasn’t a secret exactly. He just didn’t tell anybody about it.
“A Ghost Story” began as a fight between Lowery and his wife, filmmaker Augustine Frizzell. She wanted them to move to Los Angeles; he wanted them to stay in Texas. “It was literally like I didn’t want to leave this one particular house,” Lowery recalled. “I was so bummed out. Our bed was gone. We were sleeping on the floor. But still I was like, ‘I love this place. I don’t want to leave. What if we just stayed?’ I recognize that as a flaw in myself, that I could be so attached to something so technically ephemeral. It was a rental — we didn’t even own it!” He looked down at his coffee. “That house looked shockingly similar to the one that ended up in the movie.”
The movie, which reunites the lead actors from “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” stars Casey Affleck as a homebody musician and Mara as his comparatively restless wife (small fragments of the project’s formative argument are scattered throughout the opening scenes). After he dies in an off-screen car crash, the man’s ghost lifts right off of the gurney, the white hospital sheet draped over his body as he rejects an opportunity to step into the great beyond and — invisible to the living — shuffles through the hallways on his way back home. Silent beneath the cloth and unsure of his cosmic purpose, he begins to wander around the one-story house, a benign presence huddling in its corners and watching as his wife mourns, massacres a pie, and eventually moves out. After she leaves, the ghost becomes unstuck in time. The days skip into months skip into years as his journey blurs into a domesticated riff on the final minutes of “2001: A Space Odyssey” — it soon grows hard to tell if the ghost is haunting the house, or if the house is haunting him.