Film Review: The Lovely Bones (2009)

By James Madden. Viewed on 28/12/2009

So reactions upon my friends seem to be fairly mixed. But one thing that Alex and I do agree on, is that we think that The Lovely Bones is lovely.

Over a year ago, I read one of the “must read” that had been floating around on bestseller lists everywhere around the world. Alice Sebold’s story of Susie Salmon, a fourteen year old girl who was raped and murdered and thus watches and aids her family from heaven into discovering the perpetrator who lives just houses away.

The book blew me away. It was gruesome and yet funny, melancholic and yet uplifting, and a true page turner. I have had friends who have also loved the book, and when we heard news of the book being turned into a movie, skeptics summoned their opinions. Mine? It’s in Peter Jackson’s hands. Can you get someone who has been more faithful to a piece of literature? Now, I admit, I’m not the biggest Lord of the Rings fan (but I would like to be….give me time!!!!) However, I’ve seen Jackson’s other work before LotR which featured a gruesome ghoulish ghost story The Frighteners and a lesbian melodrama murder mystery in Heavenly Creatures, just to name a couple. Jackson is such an interesting filmmaker, and it is this blending of the wonderful scripts, co written by long time collaborator Phillipa Boyens and even longer time collaborator and wife of Mr. Jackson, Fran Walsh.

So came time for viewing the movie. I did so on my birthday, and to me, this was the perfect birthday film. I took along five friends, all bar one who were slightly surprised at my choice of seeing this as an enjoyable birthday film. The one who wasn’t surprised had also read AND loved the book, so we were quite anxious and nervous as well. But I kept thinking, it’s alright….Peter Jackson.

Crossing over...

It was, for all intents and purposes, heavenly. While the story is not the lightest of stories, it dealt with the running emotions of grief in such an honest way, whether Hollywood-ised or not, that it was quite the experience going through the film. Luckily, the two dedicates of the book were pleased. However, my other friend did not feel the overwhelming desire to see the film again, simply because it was an almost traumatic experience. This I accredit to the suspense that Jackson brings to the story, and is most painfully (and wonderfully) exercised in a sequence which has Susie’s sister inside the house of the man that killer her, just as he comes home to discover someone in his house. The thing that made it so suspenseful was the soundtrack. Or lack thereof I should say. I was literally sitting in my seat in awe, completely under the spell of thinking that Jackson is a genius. His closeups and the mood that surrounded them were just simply amazing to one, who seems to be either imitating Hitchcock, or simply becoming his modern protege.

Saoirse Ronan (the young Academy Award nominated actress from Atonement) had such a central and significant part  to the story, and thank god handled it so honestly with vulnerability, humour and just sheer talent. I was skeptical about the casting choice of Mark Whalberg, but he even managed to slightly impress me. I think the boy has talent! Rachel Weisz broke my heart in the aftermath of grief that came after the police informed of Susie’s death. Susan Sarandon was brought in so effectively for comic relief and as the glue which held together this extremely fragile story (and looks great as an alcoholic bad ass grandma!) And of course, Stanley Tucci (who I think is one of the main contenders for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in this performance) was one of the creepiest characters I’ve seen portrayed on film, probably since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.

You direct that girl, you genius you!

An interesting point to consider, and one that I think saw polarising my friends who I saw the film with and others whom have seen in since, is the films idea of heaven. The film (and the book) give off an strong impression of a “between place” and a heaven, thus propelling an idea of an afterlife forward. Naturally, bring up religion, and you’re gonna get opposing opinions. However, what I liked about this take of the “in between place” is that is subjects the audience to an idea of energies being present of those who have passed within those who remain. This idea, while perhaps more subtle than the computerised Avatar style projections of heaven (and boy did it look amazing too) is the one that has the lasting impression to me, and follows the themes of the story as well.

So there, I’ve said it. I see Jackson as a modern Hitchcock. I don’t know he is going to continue in such a suspenseful arena, however, I would love to see more. And also, look out for his Hitchcock style cameo in the mall. And his poster for a certain famous book trilogy in the window of a mall too….Genius!

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