I saw Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones on Saturday night, and wanted to wait a couple days before writing, to distance myself a little bit.
I read this novel, about a young girl who is murdered and watching the world from the “in-between” (I’m not spoiling anything, you find this out in the first few pages/minutes) a couple years ago, and found it fascinating, imaginative, sad, with humourous moments. Some of it was hard to read, but not nearly as hard as the author’s autobiography, Lucky. It didn’t keep me up at night or anything.
The film… is another matter.
First let me state that I am a movie wimp, and I’m okay with it. The last “scary” movie I saw was I Know What You Did Last Summer and after that I swore off of horror and thriller movies. I just do not enjoy the fear of serial killers.
FYI, other movies I’ve seen that I consider scary are: It, Sleeping With the Enemy, Silence of the Lambs, and Scream (I know it was a joke, but I told you, I’m a wimp). Go ahead and laugh at me, but I was even uncomfortable with certain parts of The Sixth Sense. I will never ever watch The Ring or Psycho or The Shining. (War movies, epidemic movies, disaster movies, and creature movies don’t bother me.)
Back to The Lovely Bones. To hear the star, Saoirse (she pronounces it “Sir-sha”) Ronan talking about it, you have the impression that it’s mostly an uplifting movie with lots of funniness. I have to disagree.
Don’t get me wrong, I chuckled quite a few times; I adored the luscious Heaven sequences; my heart was warmed several times; I thought it was well-written and very well acted (by Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Rose MacIver, Stanley Tucci – who is Oscar-nominated for this role – and Saoirse Ronan, who was 13 during filming). Wow. Overall, a great movie, if a little over-lingery in certain sections. Director Peter Jackson has done a good job.
However, I was not quite uplifted. I saw a featurette that mentions Peter Jackson’s desire to emphasize the thriller aspect of the story, and I think he has succeeded in this. Which means that I did not sleep well the night I saw the movie. (Thanks, Peter.) I guess for me, the basis of the subject matter is too unfunny to be made up for by the funny parts.
The year I was thirteen, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French were abducted, tortured, raped, and murdered by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. These girls were barely older than I was, living in cities not unlike mine – and not far from mine, either. The situation of Susie Salmon at the beginning of The Lovely Bones is not some flight of fancy – it happens to real girls, and it’s deeply scary. To be honest, I cannot think of a scarier way to die than at the hands of a psychotic, predatory male human. The moment Susie realizes she’s trapped is so awful – you just pray for things to go differently, even though then there’d be no movie.
So why was the film so much scarier for me than the book? I think there are two main reasons:
- Between Peter Jackson and Stanley Tucci, they crystallized an incredibly creepy villain – way creepier than the nebulous one in my head while I was reading the book. Kudos, Stanley – you hit just the right balance of friendly dorkiness and calculating evil.
- I’m now a parent. This was the other really hard-hitting part of the film: watching the parents and family react. Jackson’s juxtaposition of clips of Susie’s family at dinner with clips of Susie as she’s meeting her fate, their last moments of normal, happy life before horror descends on them… well, heartbreaking is not a strong enough word. Since becoming a parent, I’ve thought a lot about the kinds of bad things that could happen to my child (MOTL), and the fact that there are parents who survive losing a child in such a devastating way is beyond me.
SO. To sum up. The Lovely Bones is, IMHO, a great film, really well done. And I’m not sure I ever want to see it again.