David Lowery’s A Ghost Story was one of 2017’s most divisive films, but there is no denying the power of Rooney Mara’s performance. As it is her birthday today, I have chosen to revisit the film’s most infamous scene. This scene is a total of nearly five minutes long and is a simple one shot, with no editing or camera movement. There’s very little action, and no dialogue. Played out in real time, it focuses solely on Mara’s grieving character eating a pie which has been left for her by a caring friend. Her recently deceased husband played by Casey Affleck, now donning at white sheet with eye holes, watches her just off to the far right hand side of the scene, but he is not the focus of this scene. This is solely about Mara’s character.
The scene centres on her consuming an entire pie, sat on the floor with her back against the kitchen counter. But to say that is just want the scene is about, is somewhat reductive. Of course, this isn’t really about the character wolfing down a pie, this is about her coping with her grief. And, yes the scene is infuriating because of the lack of action, drama and suspense, but this was Lowery’s intention. And Mara’s subtle, natural performance draws you in even if you find the whole scene slightly pretentious.
As Lowery discussed in an interview, “I think it opens all sorts of doors into how you can experience this movie and how you can experience cinema as a whole. I hope people stick with it, because I think the benefits that it reaps are substantial.”
Indeed, if you do stick with the scene you witness how this young woman is struggling to contain her grief, and rather than relay on a montage of scenes stitched together, with fast paced editing and a melodramatic soundtrack, we bare witness to something that is far more personal and intimate. We only hear the sounds from outside the house, a wind chime, children playing and a car passing by. Representing time outside of this house and outside of this situation is constantly moving on. Inside the house, the only sound is Mara’s heavy breathing, and the sound of her fork scraping against the pie dish, a discomforting noise which creates a sense of unease.
This is something that we wouldn’t normally see, there is a rawness to this scene and Mara’s natural performance reinforces the idea that this is a personal moment, something that is taking place behind closed doors. Perhaps it is a combination of this personal invasion coupled with the long static shot, which turns people off? However, rewatching this scene, I have managed to fully realise just how impressive Mara’s acting is here, because without her performance this scene could not simply work.
We start the scene with Mara’s character entering the house and discovering the pie that has been left for her. She starts to consume it while standing up and then we watch her sit down to eat the rest of the dish. Mara starts to eat the pie slowly, but as she struggles to contain her emotions, she begins to shovel the food into her mouth frantically, as her breathing intensifies. We don’t see her cry, but it’s clear from her body language that she is on the verge of tears. She seems so relatable, because often those who are grieving will suppress their emotions and will carry on doing mundane tasks, despite feeling emotionally drained and broken on the inside. The scene ends when she suddenly rushes to the bathroom to vomit, her attempt to find comfort from eating has failed, and instead she findsbno comfort from this act. She must find another way to cope with her loss.
This is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking scenes of 2017, because it is so real and brutally honest. Dealing with grief is something that takes a great deal of time, and isn’t dealt with quickly. It takes time, and what better way to represent this, than by using a mundane scene like this one.
In an interview Mara revealed that she had never tried this pie before and reiterates Lowery’s previous statement about this being a representation of grief. “It was such a unique way of showing grief, we’ve never seen anything like that before. And I’d actually never had pie before, that was my first and last pie.”
This may be the first and last time we will get the opportunity to witness Rooney Mara consume a pie on the big screen, but it’s a great scene which challenges our patience and manages to challenge to act of spectatorship. It also proves just how talented Mara is as an actor, and how she manages to say so much, by simply performing the most mundane of tasks. I would recommend that readers take the time to revisit this scene and appreciate it for what it is, an example of a true masterclass of acting.