Made by New York-based artist Sue de Beer, The Ghosts follows the experiences of three people (a financial manager or accountant, a record store owner, and a young woman named Claire) as they visit a hypnotist in an attempt to deal with the burden of parting and loss. In their visions, they encounter ghosts of people and events that belong to their pasts, variously menacing, distant, bleeding, ephemeral, or ambiguous. The characters (including the hypnotist) have extended, profound monologues, in which they address the emotions that haunt them with a riveting honesty. Originally an installation, the film uses a split screen of two channels* that alternately repeat, echo, complete, and mirror one another. It was shot in luscious, saturated color that, combined with the music of Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, and the Cure, produces a heavy, dense atmosphere of unreality that seems permeated with the past and sadness. The ghosts conjured by the characters spill over into their lives, until there is no way of telling where the border between their dreams, the past, and reality lies.
The film was shot with an exceptional sensitivity to the nature of dreams and memory. The camera moves around fairly fast in beautiful, in-and-out-of-focus close-ups without ever tarnishing the fluidity of the movie. Images are presented as fleeting yet repeating themselves, suffused with light of various colors and intensities. The split screen offers a fresh perspective on de Beer’s fairly usual abstract images, lines, and distortions that are used throughout. The characters’ monologues are some of the most interesting sequences of the film, and the camera complements what is said in fascinating ways. As the financial manager is talking about watching graphs of fiscal motion go up and down, the woman he is haunted by is shown in distorted shots against a graph-like background, becoming part of the charts he is watching, part of everything he sees, inscribed into his world. Gender politics in the movie are another ambiguous topic. “I will show up everywhere that you want to erase me from,” Claire promises the record store owner in a monologue (or letter) before she leaves him. The male characters (the financial manager and the record store owner) are trying to escape from their past (specifically their involvement with women) but find themselves unable to, while the female characters (the hypnotist and Claire) are determined to leave an indelible trace in others’ lives. They demand not only to be remembered, but to be ghosts, the focus of an obsession. The female characters’ visions are straightforward, clear, and undistorted, while the males’ are disturbed and twisted. Is this because the women accept that, as the hypnotist says, “there are parts of yourself you’ve never met,” or because they can only define themselves as presences in men’s lives?
*For a great use of split screen, see Mike Faggis’s Time Code.