Friday, September 19, 2008

ghosts have unfinished business

Why is it, that no matter whether the depiction is serious or light-hearted, every time we see a story about ghosts, the assumption is that they're hanging around because they have some unfinished business to take care of?

Here's a preview from Ricky Gervais' new film Ghost Town.

And here's from the classic horror film The Sixth Sense.

Why can't ghosts ever just be here because they're here? And where do these movies assume they go once the business is done? With all the mystery surrounding afterlife and whether ghosts even exists, it's interesting that everyone is so certain the storyline purpose of a ghost is unfinished business.


exurgency/Spectacularrr said...

I think that perhaps what underlies this narrative formula about ghosts is that we can have a tie to life that is so strong that it "defeats" death.

In other words, it's another way of not accepting death -- the conceit is that if someone wants something bad enough (to right a wrong, to contact a lover, etc) then they can overcome death through sheer will-power and emotional need.

For my taste, I'd prefer Ingmar Bergman's take on this idea, in his 1958 classic, The Seventh Seal. Rather than dealing with a ghost, the protagonist confronts "Death" -- the Grim Reaper -- directly, and challenges him to a game of chess so that he might have more time to settle his affairs.

Speaking of which, that'd be a great film to profile for this blog -- I bet you'd love. I'd be keen to see your insights on it.

Jessica Knapp said...

I haven't seen The Seventh Seal. I'll have to add that to my Netflix list.

I think you're on to something there. It's a way of simultaneously accepting and defeating death. Obviously they're dead—they are ghosts. But they overcome death by being able to come back and finish their most pressing business. As viewers caught up in this narrative, it gives us the illusion that death is not all encompassing, not completely permanent. Not finite. When in reality, when you die, you die. Your business, life, what have you, just stops, no matter how important or pressing.

But I can see why it is a tantalizing narrative.