Ghost Town (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some strong language, sexual humor and drug references.
Length: 102 minutes
Grade: AC+A+A=A
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $29 million (13 U.S., 11 Intl., 5 DVD)

Written by: David Koepp (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Zathura, War of the Worlds, Secret Window, Spider-Man, Panic Room, Snake Eyes, and Mission Impossible—all of which will completely mislead you on this movie) and John Kamps (Zathura and The Borrowers)
Directed by: David Koepp (Secret Window, Stir of Echoes, and The Trigger Effect)
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, and Tea Leoni.

When an anti-social dentist dies during a routine operation and returns, he is able to see ghosts, which puts him in high demand with them. But when one ghost tries to get him to help break up the relationship between his wife and her new fiancée, the dentist finds himself actually caring about someone else for the very first time.

Entertainment Value: A
I laughed pretty constantly through this movie. Ricky Gervais (the star of the British version of The Office on which the American version is based) is hilarious. But a movie which was merely hilarious and pretty constantly so became so much more fascinating as it became something I hadn’t even been expecting: meaningful. And by the way, Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear have marvelously redeemed themselves after a recent bout of awful movies for the both of them. I have no idea how David Koepp went from his history of action/thriller movies to fashion this precious little gem of a romantic comedy.

Superficial Content: C+
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B, Violence B , Language C, Illegality B
There are some moderate sexual references here, such as to a mummy’s large and preserved genitals and a naked male ghost whose condition is the source of a few visual gags, and adultery is mentioned a few times. The whole movie is about ghosts and death, several of which occur quite suddenly. There is an extended discussion of painkilling drugs and some alcohol consumption. But probably the biggest reason this is rightly rated PG-13 is the language. It’s not particularly atrocious, and when the British swear it almost doesn’t sound vulgar, but there were several of every sort of profanity here.

Significant Content: A+
Here’s where the movie really surprised me. I was just expecting something funny, but as the movie progressed, it became apparent that the makers had something much more substantial in mind. This movie is deeply about love, not merely the romantic sort, but the broader sort which shows in relationships and is the opposite of mere selfishness. Love is serving the needs of other people and making their lives, or even afterlives, better. Also, there is this tremendous inversion at the end where we learn that the real reason ghosts hang about is not because they have unfinished business but because the living have unresolved attachments to them. If there is any message here, I think it must be, “Love your neighbor as your self,” and do what you can to help him.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Perhaps because they tricked me into a great message by teasing me with a comedy or just because I thought it all progressed so winsomely to the end, I have to praise this movie for being a message wrapped gently in a candy shell rather than a sermon.

Discussion Questions:
~When Dr. Pincus first learns of his special ability and the ghosts start making requests of him, why does he blow them off? What does this reveal about his heart? If you were in his position, would it make you excited for all the unique good you could do, burdened by the size of the task, or irritated as he was?
~This is a ghost story, which is at the very least Biblically problematic, but does this bother you? ~Do you think this movie is one that Christians shouldn’t watch because of this feature?
~The Bible talks about two examples, the demanding neighbor and the demanding woman to the unrighteous judge as why we should bother people into doing the right thing. How does this relate to this movie?
~How do ghost stories fit with the idea of each person having certain particular life objectives that they are supposed to accomplish?
~Why does Frank mislead Pincus about his recurring nightmare? What does this scene say about Frank’s own development of character?
~One of the central themes in ghost stories is the difficulty of getting people to believe that you actually can see ghosts. How is Pincus’s challenge in this regard like or unlike the difficulty Christians face in persuading nonbelievers that God is real and revealed in Christ and the Bible?
~Gwen’s fiancée is a guy who really does many great Christian social things, but he seems tense and stressed out (grinding his teeth, for example). What is the difference between doing good works from a love of Christ and doing them in an effort to prove you are a good person?
~One of the key themes of the Bible is that we should give ourselves freely to benefitting those who are in no position to do anything back for us. Considering that as the central theme of the movie, how does Pincus represent the culture in the beginning and Christianity in the end?
~Pincus seems to be transformed by a combination of personal experiences, new emotional reactions, and a loving confrontation by someone else. Does this conversion get him to become good from a Christian perspective? Is it enough for a movie to demonstrate common grace, even if it doesn’t demonstrate Christian grace?
~Identify as many elements of Dr. Pincus’s personality that contribute to his selfish misery. Which, if any of them, are tendencies you suffer from?
Overall Grade: A
I particularly liked the idea of a sneeze being what happens when we walk through ghosts.

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