Director Peter Jackson adapted Alice Sebold’s heartbreaking novel, The Lovely Bones, to the big screen alongside his collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and while there are a lot of differences from the book to film (the novel definitely has more adult themes, and things were toned down for the teen, twenty-something audiences), and some gorgeous visuals to boot, I’d like to think that the spirit of the novel lives on in the film version.
It’s the early 70s, and young Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) dreams of being a wild life photographer, and of her first kiss. She has a loving mother (Rachel Weisz) and father (Mark Wahlberg), a younger sister, Lindsey (Rose McIver) and brother (Christian Ashdale).
She lives in a happy suburbia, that seems familiar to anyone who grew up in the time. There is a simple nostalgia that permeates the scenery, conveying a sense of naivete to the era, and we’re reminded that this is a time before missing people were put on milk cartons and featured on the nightly news.
Unfortunately, someone in her regular looking neighborhood, has his eye on her, and has made plans. George Harvey (Stanley Tucci in an Oscar nominated performance), is a quiet man, he crafts dollhouses, grows roses, and largely keeps to himself, but now, his attention is focused on Susie.
Her murder affects everything around her, shapes her family, and while she watches over them, from the in-between, a purgatory, she also sees what her killer is doing, and wants revenge, justice.
We follow her family as the event tears them apart, and Susie learns to let go of her life, even as Harvey begins drawing up new plans.
There is a beauty woven throughout this film, and while the subject matter is dark, we are given a glimpse of something larger and meaningful beyond the vile events that led to Susie’s death. She, and we, are reminded that everyone dies, and that cosmic justice and karma could be a thing.
The visuals at work are gorgeous, creating a shifting beautiful world for Susie, that ties her to her earthly existence, and the possibility of what lays beyond. She is able to glimpse the trials her family is going through, the plans of Harvey, and the hard fact, that life goes on without us after we are gone.
It’s an emotional ride (with visual cues, callbacks, and payoffs), and while it differs greatly from the novel it definitely affects the viewer. I think going into it, you have to believe that there is more to existence than this physical life, that something happens when we die, or you have to hope so, and consequently, if you do believe, this film (and the exceptional novel) resonates.
There’s also a great supporting cast including Susan Sarandon and Michael Imperioli.
It had been awhile since I watched this one, but it struck home, and I think I got more out of it than I had previously.