For some reason I did not see The Lovely Bones when it first came out. I don’t know why. But now that the hype has died down, I am glad that I didn’t.
There was so much press surrounding the release of the movie, Oscar buzz for Saoirse Ronan and the fans of the book coming out and declaring how excited they were to see it translated onto the big screen. Then came the reviews, and any I heard were not favourable. Maybe that was why I steered clear of the movie for a while. Whatever the reason, I am happy I did.
The Lovely Bones is the story of Susie Salmon (Ronan). She is murdered at the age of 14 and spends the next several years watching her family deal with her death and coming to terms with it herself. She is not quite in heaven, but as her young brother Buckley, so astutely observes, she is in the inbetween. Susie is frozen in time at the moment that she died; she never gets any older, but she watches her family grow and change without her.
Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones was one of the most anticipated films of recent times. Many people were interested to see what Jackson would do with material as ‘non epic’ as the book, especially after The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. Jackson manages to strike the perfect tome in this film. The tone of love and loss and the idea that there is little more than a veil or a pane of glass separating this world from the next.
The idea of heaven is a difficult one to capture on screen, like the idea of the future, as often it is going to be wrong. Or more correctly, people are going to disagree with it. The description of Susie’s heaven is fairly clearly laid out in Sebold’s book, but Jackson manages to translate it well onto the screen. The problem is, as was the problem with LOTR, sometimes it seems as though there is too much of a focus on the style of the movie, than the content. Happily, just as this is beginning to happen, as soon as the audience starts to feel that they are being drawn into CGI and over sentimental ideas of what happens to us after we die, we are brought back down to earth (literally) as Susie watches her family search for her killer.
Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz don’t have a lot to do in the movie as this really is Susie’s story. There is a nice little undertone with Susie and her father as we watch him grieve. This draws attention to the nature of the father – daughter relationship and how it differs with Susie’s relationship with her mother.
The standout performance of the film really is Stanley Tucci as Susie’s neighbour, Mr Harvey. He is absolutely terrifying even though he is rarely anything but polite. It is in his glances and twitches that his nature is revealed and in this the fear of the character is created. We only ever see him lose his cool in the film once – when he actually drags Susie back into the room that he kills her in – but even this is not the scary part. It is the facade that he creates, the polite calm that is truly unnerving.
While the book is faithful in tone and to the main events of the book, many things have been changed. The sexual abuse of Susie is removed from the film, but implied, as is her murder as an event in itself. There is a lot of focus in the book on Ray Singh, but most of his story is removed from the film, apart from the fact that he was Susie’s first encounter with romance, a notion that she carries with her throughout the film. Other ideas like Susie’s mum’s affair with the policeman investigating her disappearance and Ray’s affair with Ruth are totally removed. The timeline of the film is also a lot shorter than that of the book.
One thing that could have been left out of the film is Susie’s ‘posession’ of her friend Ruth in order to talk to Ray. In the book this sequence is twee and slightly cringeworthy, and the same goes for the film, even though is is shortened slightly. It seems as though this scene is included in order to have a turning point that allows Susie to let go and move into heaven proper, but this could have been done in a much nicer and less cringey way by just allowing Susie’s mother to enter her bedroom and finally begin to pack it up. Susie’s physical presence in the house could have been the catalyst for her to go.
Overall the film is one of teen romance, of analysing a serial killer, of how a family copes with the loss of a loved one and of how that loved one copes with actually being dead and even though this sounds like a lot to cram into one film, it all fits together with surprising ease. The only complaint being the over CGIed notions of heaven, but even those can be forgiven for it is Susie’s watching of her family and narration of her afterlife that makes the film stand out from all the made for TV movies about the same thing.
A quiet little film from the director of epics. It is not going to change your ideas of heaven and hell, or even those of what a truly great movie can be, but definitely worth a watch in order to understand that not every film has to be loud and raucous. Sometimes greatness is in the quietness.