The Lovely Bones: A Lovely, Original Vision

19 01 2010

Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones was bombarded with controversy before the film was ever released.  Based on the novel by Alice Sebold, the story was considered, by many, to be unfilmable.  Dealing with a main character who dies, then narrates the world she left behind, many fans of the book felt the visual quality of film would simplify the deeply complex story.  Add to this a violent child rape and murder…you’ve got a bit o’ controversy.  While some felt the filmmakers made the right decision by keeping the rape and murder off screen, others felt it was a cheat, stepping around an issue that made the book so powerful.  Here’s the breakdown:

Susie Salmon is a normal 14-year-old girl.  She goes to school, has a family, has a crush.  Unfortunately, her life is cut short when a neighbor lures her into a trap, raping and brutally murdering her.  Caught in a world beyond, Susie must help her grieving family come to grips with her death…and eventually bring her killer to justice.

The Monkey: Visually, the film is beautiful.  The story’s 1970’s setting maintains its vibrant color while giving the audience a retro feel…this contrasts nicely with the other-worldly place Susie occupies for much of the film.  There are some truly stunning images: Susie’s main point of constancy, a wooden gazebo, appears in many settings, from a lake of wheat to a frozen tundra; the killer conducting an interview with the police, expertly shot through the windows and rooms of a doll house.  The most beautiful scene was not only visually shocking, but emotionally resonant as well; Susie’s ship-in-a-bottle builder father, in a fit of grief, shatters model after model, sending life-sized bottled ships crashing against beach rocks in Susie’s world.

The movie’s suspense was a nice surprise.  While the identity of Susie’s killer is never a secret, the filmmakers are able to pack an enormous amount of nail-biting moments into the film (particularly, Susie’s “capture” and a climactic scene involving a wooden floorboard).

Saoirse Ronan carried the film remarkably well, considering her character was dead and forced to deliver breathy, ethereal lines.  Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz worked very well as the grieving parents (love Rachel Weisz!).  The true star of the film, however, was Stanley Tucci as the creepy killer.  His performance was so understated, so incredibly subtle…I truly believed he was capable of such awful things.  If it weren’t for Christopher Waltz’s genuis performance in Inglourious Basterds, Tucci would have the Golden Globe and Oscar for best supporting actor.

And as far as the off-screen rape/murder: the stylized scene in which Susie realizes what has happened to her is more chilling and emotionally effective than actually seeing the crime on-screen.

The Weasel: The middle act of the film lost pace, confusing the tone and mood that had been previously established.  Susan Sarandon appears as the alcoholic, domestically challenged grandmother, trying to help her family deal with Susie’s death.  The scenes are meant to be humorous, but the humor feels forced, as if the filmmakers assumed the audience would need a break from the serious subject matter.  This middle act also featured a montage of Susie’s limbo: playing in fields with butterflies, snow-sledding, etc.  Perhaps this is what fans of the book felt was “unfilmable”…and they were right.  It seemed out of place and disrupted the rhythm of the movie.

A visually original and beautifully filmed movie, The Lovely Bones features award-winning performances, and succeeds in pleasing the eye while maintaining emotional weight.

Note: Keep an eye out for Peter Jackson’s Hitchcock-esque cameo!

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think?  Did you read the book?  Tell me what you thought about The Lovely Bones in the comments!

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One response

20 01 2010
Cassandra

Definitely going to see it! Honestly, the previews freaked me out… but this made me feel better/excited. And as soon as I found I was in store for some Marky Mark, it was a done deal!!! 🙂

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