The Lovely Bones
The Lovely Bones left me torn. On the one hand, it was an astonishingly creative and beautiful film, filled with the sort of deeply imaginative imagery that makes you want to leap from your seat in applause. But on the other, the film suffers from a conspicuous case of style over substance. While it is a message film—and a good one at that—the message is not prominent, and the conclusion needlessly timid. But it is something the film has no control over that impairs it the most—a philosophical aversion to bend to the rapacious human appetite for vengeance.
The main character, 14-year-old Susie Salmon (a terrific Saoirse Ronan), is murdered only minutes into the film. The setting is 1973 in the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown, where Susie is a typical teenager, especially her feelings for a schoolboy with whom she plans on sharing her first kiss. But it is a kiss she is never to have in life. Taking a shortcut through a cornfield after school one day, she encounters her neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who convinces Susie to enter an underground den that he says he's built for the local kids. But once inside, Harvey he rapes her, cuts her throat, and dismembers her body. (Thankfully, this horrific event occurs offscreen.)
How do you continue a story when your protagonist is killed? But as Ghost and other films have shown, sometimes death is only the beginning.
While the Salmon family, led by Susie's parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz), tries to come to grips with their loss, Susie finds herself in her own "personal heaven" from which she can observe her loved ones but not interact with them. She watches as police detective Len Fenerman's (Michael Imperioli) investigation grows increasingly cold. She watches as her father becomes obsessed with solving her murder, at the expense of his relationship with his wife and his own physical well-being. She watches as her sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) comes to suspect George Harvey and goes to perilous lengths to prove it.
Through it all, Susie tries to understand the limbo she comes to call "my heaven," a surreal place where action in the real world influences her own. Her only guide is a girl calling herself Holly Golightly (Nikki SooHoo), who describes the alternate dimension as an "in-between," a bit of both heaven and hell. While this bizarre purgatory does not require her to amend for any sins, Susie begins to suspect that she first must do something before moving on, but she can't help but continue looking down on her family and her old life. When she discovers that she is not Harvey's only victim, but simply his latest of many, Susie decides that hate is the only thing she has left.
Based on the best seller by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones is drawn from the author's own experiences when she was brutally raped while a freshman at Syracuse University. Sebold did not attempt to capture the details of her assault in the novel, but rather the emotional and psychological repercussions. I am not sure director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) understands this. He seems less interested in Susie's emotional trauma (she doesn't really have one), than her discombobulation with and eventual acceptance of her new surroundings. This has the peculiar sensation of lessening the crime's impact, no matter how much we want to stay with the pain.