The film was “A Ghost Story,” a surreal and utterly captivating work of art starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. Made by beloved indie director David Lowrey, the story revolves around a couple (Affleck and Mara) who are trying to make it in the world, move on up, if you will, when, suddenly, Affleck is killed, leaving Mara to grieve, and also leaving Affleck’s ghost lingering in their house and on the property — for years, decades and centuries thereafter, trying to find closure before departing this world for, well, who knows, eh?
It’s an unusual cinematic experience, where long (very long) and drawn out scenes require patience and a true understanding of the emotions being presented (which are also the keys to compassion and making sense of life, right?). But, more than the story itself, the ideas of nihilism versus religion, love versus hopelessness, all seems to collide into whatever interpretation or conclusion you may come to as you make the purposely slow stroll back to your car from the theater, stuck in a paradox of reason and imagination, what is known and unknown.
The nihilist monologue (so bluntly and beautifully executed by Will Oldham) in the middle of the film really affected me. The thought that “everything means nothing,” and that science itself shows that someday (billions and billions of years from now) the Sun will overtake the Earth and the universe will one day expand to its furthest point, only to contract and destroy everything it spent eternity creating.
So, in seeing what’s presented in front of you with the monologue, you can take two roads: do nothing because nothing matters, or make the most of the time you’re lucky enough to have in this world. The film provokes the notion that — in essence — anything, everything and everyone you’ve ever loved (past, present or future) will someday die, only to be covered by the dust of age, eventually forgotten, all too easily lost in the fray of time and space. In turn, this brings in the notion of art and human creation, with books, songs, paintings, buildings, etc., being ways that you (as an individual or group effort) will at least live on — in legacy and in purpose — for some number of years beyond your physical expiration date.
Walking out of the film, thoughts swirl around your head like fireflies: Why do I do what I do? Is there any reason to get out of bed in morning? Why do I work and pay bills if nothing matters? Is there purpose to what I do every day? Will I have a legacy? What can I do to ensure that legacy? What is happiness? Am I happy?
And the thoughts go on and on, almost to point you have to stop yourself from going crazy and getting anxiety over the whole “grand scheme of things.” Throughout the weekend, the film and its message (or questions raised) kept popping into my head, even as my girlfriend and I took off for Boone Saturday evening to see YES, Todd Rundgren and Carl Palmer (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) at the Holmes Convocation Center at Appalachian State University.
Within the arena, I stood there, pretty much surrounded by folks twice my age. I kept looking around, at all those faces, who had seen things, felt happiness and sadness, and probably had a lot of the same questions I had about life and our place in the universe.
I felt a sense of calmness when YES launched into a rollicking version of “Starship Trooper” to end the performance. Something about Steve Howe’s guitar wizardry and the crowd being just mesmerized by the light show spectacle, everyone singing along to songs immortal. You begin to think, who cares if the universe will disappear one day? We don’t have control over that. But, we do have control over our daily happiness, and joyful things like this band and their songs, these people and my girlfriend next to me, all of which make me happy. So, why not just simply focus on that?
The next morning, awakened by a mountain sunrise, I emerged into the day, eager to find a running trail nearby. After a hearty breakfast at the Sunrise Grill, it was decided to head to the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, a sprawling array of hiking and walking trails, all emerging from the Cone Manor high atop the Blue Ridge Parkway between Boone and Blowing Rock.
Before I laced up my running shoes, I laid out on a hillside, underneath an old tree, and took a lazy Sunday nap amid sunshine and a cool breeze. After about a half-hour, I awoke and just stared upward at the tree and its elaborate branches, wondering who years before me also took a nap in this spot, and who will years after. I smiled to myself, thinking of just how grateful I am to be here, and in this moment, where I can appreciate — consciously and subconsciously — the sheer grandeur and distinct privilege of existence.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The 20th annual Fines Creek Bluegrass Jam will take place Aug. 11-12 at the Fines Creek Community Center.
2 The Waynesville VFW Post #5202 will host its “Summer Jam” fundraiser all-day Saturday, Aug. 12.
3 Nantahala Brewing Company (Bryson City) will host Urban Soil (world/rock) at 8 p.m. Friday. Aug. 11.
4 The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill (Waynesville) will host “Metal Night” with Amnesis, Chaos Among Cattle, Inviolate and Tombstone Highway at 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12.
5 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will host Karaoke with Tinderbox Circus Sideshow (lo-fi) at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12.