Original release: December 11th, 2009
Running time: 135 minutes
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Alice Sebold
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci
The death of a child is something no parent should have to suffer, but when it happens, the effects of it can be the most traumatic thing a family will ever have to deal with. I can only imagine what it’s like though, but what about the child that dies? What is it like for them?
Alice Sebold explored this idea with her novel, The Lovely Bones and in 2009 Peter Jackson adapted it into a visually stunning and emotionally compelling feature film starring Saoirse Ronan as 14-year-old Susie Salmon.
Set in 1973, they story is centred on Susie who lives with her parents, Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz) and her brother and sister, Lindsey (Rose McIver) and Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale). The teenager dreams of being a photographer one day, and like most girls her age, she’s experiencing her first real crush with a boy called Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie). However, her life takes a different course than the one she hoped for when she encounters her neighbour George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) in a cornfield on her way home one afternoon.
George coaxes her into an underground den which he says he’s built for children and asks her to take a look. After trapping her there, Susie realises what he’s about to do and manages to escape, running past one of her classmates on the street and even seeing her dad who’s out looking for her, but no one seems to see or hear her. It gradually dawns on her that she never made it out of George’s den and was in fact murdered by him.
The story doesn’t end there though. Susie, trapped in the In-Between, continues to watch over those who’ve made an impact on her short life; her parents, her siblings, her friends, the boy she might’ve kissed and even George, the man who took her life.
From her new vantage point, Susie also sees the way George manages to escape detection through a lack of physical evidence tying him to her disappearance, and she also see her family falling apart. After coming to suspect George, Jack becomes obsessed with bringing him to justice, as does Lindsey. Meanwhile her mother is crumbling under the pain of her loss and her alcoholic grandmother Lynn (Susan Sarandon) moves in to try and help the family cope.
Susie isn’t alone in the In Between, she meets Holly (Nikki SooHoo), another murdered girl. As the pair become friends, Holly urges her to move on and find peace with what’s happened. Yet she can’t move on, especially as she sees George becoming preoccupied with Lindsey.
The Lovely Bones is a film with an amazing visual landscape created from Susie’s memories and dreams as she gradually comes to terms with what’s happened to her. It touches on questions I’ve found myself asking many times before. If I could watch my whole life from any point in what would I choose to look at? Would my death be the closest event to me or could I pick the moments which meant most? The one I always find myself coming back to is this one: at what point would I have to stop looking and say goodbye?
Susie takes us through all of these questions on her journey and while others may say The Lovely Bones leaves many things unresolved, such as the issue of justice, it doesn’t out to take us through the legal system, but through Susie’s journey.
One of the most poignant scenes in the movie comes near the beginning where Susie is looking back on herself as a toddler. She can barely reach the table top, but she wants to look at the snow globe with a little penguin inside.
This sets the tone for the entire movie and shows how several characters are trapped by choice in their illusions of perfection. Susie’s father is obsessed with building perfect ships in glass bottles which inevitably come crashing in another of the most remarkable scenes in the movie. Susie’s killer is a man obsessed with building perfectly scaled model houses and hides in his own from fear of being found out. Susie herself constructs her own perfect world and even though happy there, she knows she will have to move on with her afterlife and leave it all behind.
It’s always upsetting to watch scenes in movies or on television where bad things happen to children, and so it should be. It should never be easy, not for one moment because that uneasiness we feel, that discomfort; it reminds us of our humanity and is one of the better uses of filmmaking because it reflects what we essentially are.
The movie’s beautiful cinematography, direction and performances are heightened by a moving score which includes tracks by Cocteau Twins, Brian Eno and the heart-wrenching Song For A Siren by This Mortal Coil.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .