For as long as I can remember Ghost has been a special film. I have fond memories of watching it repeatedly, though I was drastically too young to see the film, but now I can look back and laugh at the years of nightmares its antagonists gave me. Ghost is considered a chick flick; one for the girls with a glass of wine and a box of tissues – true it is that but there is so much more to it.
From the ominous blast of music introducing the title, you know this is not going to be sunshine and rainbows, the opening scenes establish the characters and there is already a sense of foreboding as we watch this happy young couple starting their life together in a great New York apartment. There are definite hints of something in the dialogue, which only adds to the build-up. OK so it’s not hard to guess what’s coming, I mean it’s in the title, but the how’s and why’s are what make this movie and make it so much more than just a chick flick.
Sam Wheat (Swayze) and Molly Jensen (Moore) are a happy couple moving in together and planning a future until Sam is killed in a mugging gone wrong. But unbeknownst to the grieving Molly, Sam is still hanging around, he has not crossed over to the other side due to a desire to know why he was killed. When he discovers he was murdered in a premeditated attack and Molly is in danger he enlists the help of Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg) a fraud psychic who is distressed to learn she can hear him, to communicate to Molly for him. Through sheer love and perseverance, Sam is able to reaffirm his love for Molly and settle his unfinished business.
There are a number of reasons Ghost is considered a soppy romance, mainly due to one scene. The famous pottery sequence has taken on a life of its own in skits and re-imaginings. The song played here has also reached great heights of infamy in relation to the film; Unchained Melody performed by the Righteous Brothers was actually released 25 years before in 1965 but was re-introduced to a legion of new fans through its use in Ghost’s most recognized scene.
The score, notably the love theme, is introduced very early on in the movie and establishes a great tone for the relationship of Sam and Molly and its great depth. Created by Maurice Jarre, it is one of the most beautiful and sentimental pieces of film music, full of longing and passion. It is an unforgettable element of the picture and undeniably one of the main reasons you require a box of tissues close by. Saying that, his more sinister pieces are menacing; summing up entirely the danger and threatening situations on screen and may I say for a 9-year-old is truly frightening.
However, I think people forget that this is not just a great love story but a tense and rather frightening drama, Swayze’s performance as Sam is one of the greatest he delivered. Director Jerry Zucker has said that Patrick did not require dialogue in a scene to portray the message, he could say it all with his eyes. His death scene is very underrated, he portrays a convincing confusion and panic at being ripped so suddenly and violently from his body as can only be imagined. The strange dream sequence which I have always found perplexing is a manifestation of that confusion, integrating a collage of images and fantasy until Sam realises he has died.
This all happens so quickly that we are as unsettled as Sam in his new situation, we see this new existence through Sam’s eyes; we learn to adapt as he does to all the bewildering things that come from being a ghost. For instance, the uncomfortable feeling and shock of someone walking through Sam for the first time. Demi Moore often forgotten amongst Swayze and Goldberg gives a solid performance, realistic in its approach of a woman not only grieving but thrown into circumstances she cannot begin to understand or wholly believe. Her Molly is the everywoman if you will, the most relate-able character in the film and going through something we all have, or will go through; the loss of a loved one.
At the other end of the scale was the casting of Whoopie Goldberg as Oda Mae Brown. This was genius casting and all down to Patrick Swayze who recommended and fought for her to get the role. They remained friends until his death in 2009. Goldberg displays her best comedic talents in Ghost and has impeccable timing. She is making money scamming grieving families pretending she can contact the deceased, as a fake it comes as a big shock to learn she can hear Sam. Goldberg gives the film something it needed to be as successful as it has managed to be, she gives the seriousness of the drama a light edge, humour that relieves the tension. After all, in all the worst situations there is usually both tears and laughter, the mix is what I believe makes the film stand up today. She steals every scene (watch out for the visit to the bank) and well deserved her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
The supporting cast in the movie are also very memorable, especially for me personally, Vincent Schiavelli’s subway ghost. The set pieces are what keeps the film interesting and his fascinating character is one of the most entertaining. He teaches Sam how to control what little impact he can make in the living world. His own limited back story shrouds him in mystery but what is hinted at is very troubling and begins to explain his temperament. Tony Goldwyn as Sam’s friend Carl is also very affecting in the role, we watch Carl unravel as the film progresses, Goldwyn is perfect in the part.
The effects used in the film now seem rather rough, but they are nevertheless still effective, the angles Zucker uses when Sam is in the presence of another person is very clever, it almost looks like he is not quite in the same place as if the living are divided from him. Light is very important to the film, good and evil are represented in the basic forms of light and shadows. The light that represents heaven/the something after is very subtle. On the other end of the spectrum are the creepy shadows that represent Hell, that and the sound effect used to create such an effective response in audiences. One of the things I love about movies comes from repeated viewings; things only noticeable through watching the film multiple times. Ghost is littered with subtle but meaningful details. For instance, how Molly wears only Sam’s clothes and his ring throughout the film from the time of his death, another emphasis on the theme of not letting go.
Ghost is a film that reminds you of how important relationships are, not only that but communication in those relationships, making it count while you can is a big theme. Also that despite the physical loss of a loved one they are never really gone. It was the highest grossing film of 1990, take my advice give it a try and leave your cynicism at the door.
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