Ghost Stories: The Hidden Meaning Behind The Mysterious Hero

Ghost Stories
Lionsgate

To begin: we really have no clue who our protagonist is. Despite some weak exposition at the start of the film revealing Phillip Goodman as Jewish and struggling with a combative home life, that’s all we get shown rather than told. Goodman describes himself in documentary fashion to the camera as a paranormal investigator searching for the reality behind unreal situations - soon taking to the stage of a ‘psychic’ to reveal the fakery involved with 'talking to the dead'.

As we see by the end of the movie, the sequences we’re presented on screen can barely be trusted, including this introduction. The film is a warped amalgamation of Goodman’s perceptions whilst in a coma, as well as a reflection of his internal struggles with the events of his past. We never learn if he really was pushed to be a paranormal investigator as a result of lashing out against his parents’ strict faith, or if this is another fabrication as a result of his illness. All we have is a framing narrative we’re inclined to trust for the sheer fact there’s nothing else we can rely on - this being the opening home movies, and a closing hospital scene - that mark the reality of Goodman’s situation.

So what’s the true story behind the horror? It’s more than ghosts that haunt Goodman, and the clues are littered throughout each chapter in the film with varying conspicuousness. If we approach the apparitions thematically then: a story starts to come together.

Family is by far the strongest running thread from start to finish. Opening with Goodman’s bar mitzvah, we’re introduced to a young Philip, the sweet relationship between him and his sister, and his love of recording films. As the clips continue, we see Goodman’s sister get into a relationship with an Asian man, and their father react venomously - screaming and destroying things in her room, effectively kicking her out and breaking down their family bonds.

If we rely on these opening videos as being trustworthy, and the rest of the film existing as a dream sequence within Goodman’s coma, this tortured family relationship is something that haunts Philip as an adult. Each ‘Ghost Story’ as it were reflects a damaged family relationship, touching on an insecurity of Goodman’s with every strained screen dynamic...

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