Netflix Movie Month: "Ghost" Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

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Rating: PG-13
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: July 13, 1990
Directed by: Jerry Zucker
Genre: Drama / Fantasy / Mystery

A charming and unusual concoction of romance, horror and mystery with a consistent dose of comic relief, "Ghost" has something for everybody. However, it is Jerry Zucker's artistic treatment of the universal concern with life after death that has made the film an enduring cinematic success.

Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) and Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) are in love. They move together into a New York apartment, but, true to Sam's premonitory fears, their bubble of happiness is soon to burst. Early in the movie, Sam is murdered during a robbery, which leaves Molly distraught and desolated. He finds himself relegated to the existence of a spirit that cannot make itself known except to animals and other ghosts. However, these limited abilities enable him to find out that his murder is not a mere coincidence. Rather, it is part of a plan that involves his colleague Carl Bruner (Tony Goldwyn) and a money laundering scheme.

In need of some physical presence, Sam persuades a reluctant medium to become his right hand in stopping Carl's criminal undertakings. Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) is a sham medium who is not aware of her own gift of communicating with the dead until she sees and hears Sam. Together, they undo Carl's plot, save Molly from becoming a collateral to his criminal endeavors and allow Molly a final encounter with Sam before his final departure.

Despite the apparently simple story line, the power of "Ghost" lies in the time that director Jerry Zucker took to develop his characters. The chemistry between Swayze and Moore is evident. When Sam dies, the sense of loss is almost palpable. Molly becomes a silent character, the floating part of a broken ship. Her hardship in coming to terms with Sam's death is as moving as her slow and initially reluctant acceptance of Sam's presence after death. Sam yearns to touch her, but touch is impossible for him. In the middle of all this, "Ghost" introduces a gratifying element. Through the power of her feelings for Sam, Molly gains a peek into the afterlife and sees him departing to Heaven. It is not hard to catch the philosophical undertones that highlight the purifying, transforming potential of love. Molly becomes a believer in the eternity of love, and she comes to understand that, once loved, she can never be alone again. As a bonus, she receives the promise of a future reunion with her lover in the other world.

The simple portrayal of life after death in "Ghost" brings the viewer another satisfying element. Indeed, bad people go to Hell, and good people find their way to Heaven, where they are greeted by ethereal beings of love. Such a commonly accepted solution sits well with an audience that expects vindication. Even the "pity the sinner" religious tenet is subtly illustrated. When horrifying beings from Hell covered in black shrouds come to claim their souls, the sinners' screams and supplications are heart wrenching.

In the midst of all these heavy themes, the role of Oda Mae Brown brings in some much needed comic relief. In her first Oscar-winning role, Whoopi Goldberg creates an extremely likeable character. From an imposter who charges twenty dollars to tell her clients they are cursed, Oda Mae transforms into a woman who accepts her gift, saves the day and facilitates the final contact between two lovers. Oda Mae is a deeply human character who, after involvement in sham activities, triumphs and becomes a real version of what she once impersonated.
There are at least two scenes that have the potential to endure in a viewer's memory long-term. They are two contrasting love scenes between Sam and Molly. The first depicts the earthy love that the two make in a clay-covered, sensual love episode at the beginning. The second depicts their final dance when Sam, using Oda Mae as a vehicle for his gestures and touch, makes himself felt again by a yearning Molly. The movie forms a complete circle in which love is taken from this world and brought into the other, as whole in the end as it was at the beginning.

Without doubt, "Ghost" is the epitome of a tear-jerker. With such premises, it could have very well ended up as a cheap and forgettable melodrama. However, Jerry Zucker's fine artistic sense and his smart decision to fill his movie with first-class actors make "Ghost" one of the best love stories to ever grace the silver screen. "Ghost" is a must-see movie for romantic movie lovers and thrill-seekers alike.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5