This classic 1990 weepie is admittedly a tad corny, but just like its star, it has so much earnest charm you can’t help but be won over by just how effective it is.
I knew virtually nothing about this movie, save for – what else – that iconic scene in which Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore share a sensual moment late at night by the pottery wheel, while their adorable vintage jukebox serenades them with the sounds of Unchained Melody. I really had no idea what to expect, especially in regards to the movie’s tone: was it going to be a spooky horror, a straight-faced sombre drama, something else entirely? Colour me surprised because I certainly didn’t expect Ghost to lean so heavily into comedy, despite the essentially tragic love story.
Swayze is Sam, a young Manhattan banker living with his ceramic artist girlfriend Molly in a bohemian loft apartment. Maybe it’s the rising cost of living preying on my mind, but my first reaction was, how on earth are they able to afford this massive place?? One night, while walking back home from a performance of Macbeth, Sam and Molly are attacked by a mugger. Eventually the thug flees the scene with Sam in pursuit, but when Sam returns to comfort Molly, he’s confronted by a shocking sight: his own body in Molly’s arms, bleeding out from a stab wound. It’s a powerful scene, undermined very slightly by the fact that Swayze can look really really goofy during intense dramatic moments.
Now a ghost stuck in the land of the living, Sam moons around the apartment, watching over distraught and grieving Molly, and not really sure of his purpose in the after-life. That’s until he realises that his death wasn’t an act of random violence, but a deliberate contract murder, arranged by the true bad guy whose identity is so bleeding obvious I’m not even sure if the movie intended it to be a surprise for the viewers.
The real twist in the story happens when Sam strays outside of his yuppie neighbourhood into a rougher part of the city, and comes across Oda Mae (Whoopi Goldberg), a scam artist pretending to be a psychic who discovers a genuine gift when she can hear Sam speak. Goldberg is absolutely superb in her more comedic role, and has a really fun and lively chemistry with Swayze, as Oda Mae’s dynamic with Sam shifts from amazement to irritation to genuine sympathy. There’s a hilarious scene in which she finds herself besieged by the ghosts of spouses and relatives, all clamouring to talk to her clients; the connection to the spiritual realm, it turns out, is quite a headache.
There’s also fun to be had with the new in-between world Sam finds himself in, which is vaguely if not explicitly Christian, with good souls going to paradise and evil ones dragged away by the dark demonic creatures. I enjoyed the ghostly life even if the special effects do look pretty silly and you have to swallow things like, why do the ghosts pass through the walls but are somehow able to stand or even fall on the floor as if it’s solid and impenetrable beneath their feet? In a side story involving a very cranky fellow ghost Sam encounters on a train ride, Sam learns to channel his emotions in order to exert influence in the material world, in a more unusual training sequence than you’d normally see in a film.
Some above-mentioned goofy acting aside, Patrick Swayze is a perfect romantic hero that Ghost needs to work. In fact watching this movie made me appreciate him in a way I haven’t really done before – and I’m not just talking about his good looks. There’s something enormously appealing about his combination of athletic physicality and the immense sense of vulnerability he brings to Sam (same can be said about his role in Dirty Dancing, which might have come off as creepy if played by the wrong actor).
Demi Moore may not have all that much to do and is constantly under threat of being upstaged by Swayze and Goldberg, but she gives it all, and Molly is important to the story, as a character through which grief and loss are explored in a serious and touching way. Also, I absolutely adore her deservedly iconic pixie haircut.