In this unusual place we call the human mind, what can we really tell is reality or an illusion, film is the best place for these answers, as it's purpose is to blend them. I have been asking myself question after question after viewing this puzzle of a film. Within a Victorian house standing alone a residual ghost named Emily haunts in a vacant house only to realize her demise when a medium named Sylvia whom Emily cannot see is there to guide her to the other side, only Emily doesn't realize the true nature of her death could be the one thing that would be dangerous for her to realize.
To begin this harrowing journey we need to examine the space in which the film is placed. It's a quiet, vacant, hallow, and still home. We open the film with a fade in to a Victorian house standing in the stillness of day light. We see other indications of rot and age of the house, but inside its clean but ominous and we come to find out that a woman in Victorian clothing, Emily is the only human occupying this home (at least that's what we know) . She cooks eggs for herself, searches for remnants of a lover in her dresser, cleans the home, reads a book, and a distressing scene that involves a raised butter knife. What becomes normal for us in the first three minutes becomes offbeat and questionable as each scene repeats into self over and over in a non-linear order. Ultimately throughout these moments we are in wide static shots of Emily prisoned and centered out within the shot without any emotional connection to this woman, not yet allowed to view her at a proper proximity. The scene transitions from each scene cannot be called seamless, but isolated prisons of moments of monotony seen as a residual spirit would see them...or supposedly. With stretched out moments of darkness between scenes that bring to mind the linear cinematic time awareness tortures of Chantal Ackerman's "Jeanne Dielman" or something we might see in Michael Haneke's films, as scenes literally float in their own space.
One might call this the first character study of a ghost. Only after Emily and ultimately the viewer realizes this, the camera becomes more close and handheld, floating and encapsulating the subject, only now the unemotional feeling we were left with at at wide angle we are now left with more close-ups that bring fourth our subjective anxiety, just as Emily would see it. It is a film about perception and doubt, is it not?
The lighting is diffused within the home, but the outside light from its various light sources and windows with harsh light that doesn't seam to strike into its locations, it stands alone almost hinting at a peace that resides outside Emily's perspective. This creates a otherworldly feeling to Emily's world, a unconscious grave yard waiting to be dug up.
Of course you want to be scared and it's is errie, not terrifying, at least not yet. What sets the story's engine into gear is when Emily becomes aware of her exists as a ghost by a invisible presence know to her as a psychic hired from the family that previously lives in Emily's home to rid her of her spirit and send it to the next world, or plane of existence. With this realization comes the ultimate price to become conscience means to understand that she is truly alone and isolated in her own home. Not to say this constitutes as play on the garden of Eden, but when Eve became aware of her existence from the tree of knowledge, she was aware of her own nature, her self, as Emily soon realizes with knowledge comes a great epiphany of reality when she finds out from her invisible psychic friend that she might not be the only spirit trapped in the house.
The films actual look besides its claustrophobic nature is the grainy and projector framed look almost like a 70's horror film. It's only adds to the films eerie imprisonment of its subject. In all it's a great device to keep the moody and uneasy feeling of the evirornment into a dangerous and sinister black hole that Emily sinks into in every shot. The film also uses a spilt screen method, much like Depalma used in SISTERS to convey duality of perspective, much like Emily's split of doubt and fear.
This is in the end a film about Memory and the Self, take out the ghost concept, and it stands as a frightening exploration into self-reflection, about little we know about ourselves until we realize we're alone in the world. Emily discover in her second session with her invisible guide Sylvia, that she was not murdered, she killed herself, supposedly from a posession, letting the malevolent spirit roam free. Sylvia can also be representing Emily's true self, but seeing the ego stands inflated to the self it's harder to compromise with its opposite. Sylvia is informal, truthful, and demanding, but also is unsure of certain limitation that Emily can execute. Emily has a arrogant defiance that develops after her realization, that mimics a ego personality. Its as if the self and the ego have split. It's a archetypical relationship we are seeing, and perfectly executed between the relationship between Emily and Sylvia. This is before Sylvia's voice disappears and Emily is left to survive in this ominous realm for herself.
I am also reminded off French filmmaker Alain Resnais' puzzling masterpiece "Last Year at Marienbad", with it's harrowing tale of a man and a woman's everlasting mystery of a meeting they had a year before in a chateau where he calms they have meet, but it's seems unclear if they really have. The film is a realm without footing and logic in reality. Most of the scenes is the man is reminding the woman that they meet a year before? This repeats in different scenarios, and in repetitious locations, but as the film progresses conversations and familiarity breaks down into a deeper mystery, even the fabric of the films reality. It's a film that is boundless, existential, and timeless in its content and context. The yin and yang relationship between man and woman, space and time, love and hate. The self and ego. Logic and absurdity, Death is also a part of the process of I am a Ghost, the void of unknown, or a metaphor of the dangers of isolation and the inescapable consequences of memory that lead to our contemplation with mortality.
I do not want to give away any important facts, as I know after reading this you might be curious into what I AM A GHOST is really about. I assure you it's not for everyone. The only issues I see in this film is the time. You might not have the tolerance, (it's the same with Last Year at Marienbad) but the film is a challenge to see how deep into your own soul you can go. For a horror film I wouldn't place it in that category, but as a stream-of -conscience experiment, it would be more appropriate. It's a great film that reminds us that minimalism is a complex art that is always a challenge to execute with one subject, but when done right it can be in the best words poignant and mysterious. Well done, H.P.