There is something fascinating about death—the magic and dream of an afterlife.
Peter Jackson’s latest, The Lovely Bones, based on the 2002 novel of the same name by Alice Sebold, depicts an “in between” world amid heaven and earth, one in which we can escape. And isn’t that the beauty of movies?
Sebold’s story is centred on 14-year-old Susie Salmon. After being brutally killed by her neighbor—which is revealed to us from the start, Salmon finds herself “alive in her own perfect world,” watching her family grieve and her murderer escape. She must weigh her desire for vengeance against her family’s need to heal.
For those who are avid fans of the book, The Lovely Bones will most likely be a disappointment. But what film adaptation has ever been spot-on? Forget about the “raped, murdered and dismembered” part. Jackson, in the press conference, says that he “did not want the film to be disturbing….It was not about murder, but about the events after the murder.” It is PG-13 after all. And so, naturally this film avoids chilling and maudlin in exchange for fantastical and spellbinding.
At times overdone and erratic, Jackson—a man of experience (i.e. The Lord of the Rings and King Kong)—interjects a “twilight zone” into the realm of real life through entrancing special effects. The tree and its butterfly leaves—which appear to be the emblem of the film—are absolutely mesmerising. In fact, every scene is. There are rolling hills of brilliant green and rippling wheat fields that transform into ocean. The landscape is meant to shift with Susie’s tumultuous emotions. And from start to finish, we are enraptured by everything.
With all those dazzling visuals, character development falls by the wayside. Rather than follow Sebold’s plot chapter by chapter, Jackson, who acquired the rights independently and developed a script of his own, has reduced it down to a basic story beefed up by special effects. That way, we only get surface level reactions from the family. And worst of all, Susie’s “desire for vengeance” falls flat.
But most redeeming is the film’s all-star cast. Saoirse Ronan, who we last saw in Atonement, is outstanding as our narrator. She is as poignant as her piercing blue eyes. As for Stanley Tucci, the psychotic paedophile, who habitually plays harmless characters (i.e. lovable husband in Julie & Julia and delightful fashion designer in The Devil Wears Prada), it is discomforting to watch him with a crooked smile and a comb-over, and yet completely believable. And Susan Sarandon as kooky Grandma Lynn is as wonderful as usual. Always with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of liquor in the other, she offers us the comic relief we so desperately need.
Visually orgasmic and appropriately heartrending, The Lovely Bones is well worth the escape.