Alice Sebold's 2004 breakthrough novel The Lovely Bones is haunting, violent, beautiful, mysterious, and wonderful. Peter Jackson's 2009 adaptation is some of those things.
Both open with a young narrator telling us that she was 14 years old when she was murdered on December 6, 1973. That's how we meet Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan): already gone and telling us not the story of her life and death (although that's in there, too), but the story of her family after her death. A portrait of a family in grief. A dirge for the living.
yorke_book_1Of course, that's not all Sebold has on offer. The Lovely Bones is also a cleverly disguised coming of age tale (both for Lindsey, Susie's younger sister, and Susie herself), as well as a metaphor for the physical disassociation a rape victim sometimes feels from her own body.
Yes, rape. If you only watched the movie, you might not have guessed that George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) is not only Susie's murderer but also her rapist; and that there was a brief moment between her rape and her murder when Susie considered the possibility that the worst was behind her. It's implied that he's a pedophile, but that's as far as movie will take it.
Let me be clear: I have no interest in watching scenes of rape and murder, and I wouldn't have any interest in filming one if I were Jackson, Ronan, or Tucci. I'm hung up on this point because it's essential to Susie's story, as well as essential to understanding it, and Jackson et al. tread so lightly on this point that they leave no footprint. Film may be a visual medium, but there are ways to suggest things to the audience without actually showing them.
Jackson's adaptation rolls downhill from there. Movie Susie feels life ebbing away from her and grabs onto the top of a flower, forcing herself into the Inbetween. There, she's confused and alone until she meets Holly (Nikki SooHoo), who helps her navigate her new world. It's just the two of them in a perfect world of their own...
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