“My name Salmon. Like the fish. First name Susie. I was 14 years old when I was murdered on Dec. 6, 1973.”
With these words, Susie Salmon, the narrator/protagonist of Alice Sebold’s 2002 bestselling novel, introduces herself to readers of the book and now to viewers of the hauntingly different new film of the same name directed by Academy Award winner Peter Jackson.
Susie (Academy Award nominee Saorise Ronan) lives with her parents, Jack (Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail (Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz), her sister, Lindsey (Rose McIver), and her brother, Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale), in Norristown, Pa. She is a happy teenager in an equally happy family, and she loves writing her bike and taking pictures with a camera she received for her 14th birthday.
Now living on the same street as Susie is a man named George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), a quiet fellow whose hobby is making dollhouses. But George is not what he appears to be. In fact, he’s a killer who preys on young girls, and he has targeted Susie as his next victim. One day while Susie is on her way home from school, George lures her into a unique hideout he has built, rapes her, and then murders her.
From this point on, Susie is trapped in that nebulous realm between heaven and earth, and she observes how the members of her family cope with her disappearance and how the investigation of her case proceeds. At first, Susie’s family members have no idea what has happened to her, but as the days continue to pass, they become increasingly terrified that she’s no longer alive.
As you would expect, Susie’s untimely disappearance has a devastating effect on her parents and siblings. Her father is completely unsatisfied with the effort the police are exerting in trying to find her, and his obsession with the case causes friction between his wife and him. In the meantime, Lindsey is becoming increasingly suspicious of George.
Although in typical Hollywood fashion “The Lovely Bones” takes a number of liberties with the book, it still is a unique combination of a fantasy, mystery, thriller, and drama. Some of the scenes are as tense as anything you would find in a Hitchcock film, whereas others unfold like a surrealistic dream. Some of the images in the heaven sequences are stunningly beautiful and provide a stark contrast to what is occurring on earth.
In addition to being a fascinating blend of different genres, the film also boasts some absolutely stellar acting. Ronan exhibits poise beyond her years in front of the camera, and she is irresistible as Susie. She imbues her character with a perfect combination of diffidence, innocence, and childish enthusiasm.
Both Wahlberg and Weisz are effective in the key roles as Susie’s parents, and in a recent interview, Weisz explained what drew her to the character of Abigail.
“My character Abigail is a very ordinary lady. She’s not a heroine; she’s not noble. In fact, she falls apart when the tragedy happens. I liked that about her. She’s a very ordinary woman who is frail and weak like the rest of us.”
Although parts of the book contain extremely graphic violence, Jackson chose to tone the film down so that it would not receive an R rating, and it the film’s production notes, he said he had a definite reason for this.
“Fran and I have a daughter who’s very similar to Susie’s age. We wanted Katie to be able to see this film. There’s a lot of positive aspects of this film, and it’s not something that I think I wanted to shield our daughter from. So, it was important for us to not go into an R-rated territory at all. Movies are such a powerful medium with the music and the effects and acting and performance, the editing and the lighting and camerawork, that to show a 14-year-old girl being murdered in any way … no matter how briefly, it would completely swing the balance of the movie, and it would, frankly, make it a film that I wouldn’t want to watch.”
Tucci also turns in a chilling performance as the creepy killer. He has very few lines, but the maniacal glint in his eyes speaks volumes. Several of his scenes create unbearable tension, George definitely is not a guy you would want to meet in a dark alley.
As the film reaches its bittersweet and somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, Susie sums up her feelings.
“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections — sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent — that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous lifeless body had been my life.“
“The Lovely Bones” (I give it an 8.) is not a film for everyone because of its delicate subject matter, but I found it at once fascinating, beautifully acted, and superbly photographed, and some of its imagery was simply lovely.