The Lovely Bones
How do you tell a tale about the grizzly rape and murder of a 14 year-old girl, whilst making sure it can be released a PG? By getting rid of that pesky rape and muder part, of course! Peter Jackson’s take on Alice Sebold’s novel is certainly beautiful to look at, but it has to be asked, is that really the point?
From The Page To The Screen
When published in 2002 The Lovely Bones was an instant success, climbing to top of the UK as well as US book charts. It’s story wasn’t for the faint hearted – a tale of a young girl named Suzie Salmon, who is brutally raped and murdered in the cellar of a neighbour. Finding herself in a 14-year-old’s vision of the afterlife, Suzie has to try and communicate with her family from heaven to help them solve the mystery of her death. And when her murderer begins looking with interest at her younger sister, time is of the essence.
The reason the novel was such a success is that it contrasts the beautiful whimsy of a dreamy afterlife with the horrific images of a brutal act of murder. It rescues us from the despair and hopelessness of the real world by continually taking us back into Suzie’s dreamland. The film however, takes us to dreamland from the word go and keeps us there. The murder is unseen, there is no mention of rape, and many of the key plot points of the novel – the uncovered body parts, Suzie’s mother’s affair with the detective covering the case – are left out. The decision to keep this film PG is a interesting one, as though it ensures a visually beautiful film – and it really is lovely to look at – there’s no denying that the impact of the story is lost.
High Stakes, Low Impact
When the film was first tested with audiences back in 2009, the overwhelming response was that there was not enough violence shown, that the viewer didn’t feel the horror they should at Suzie’s murder. Though some post-production work was done to try and rectifiy this, we have to say that we agree with masses. Exploring an issue like the murder of a young girl will always be difficult, but the solution is not to spray it with perfume until you can no longer sense the horror. The overwhelming success of Precious – the story of an American teenager abused by her parents – has shown that audiences respond well to being presented with the reality of these terrible scenarios, rather than being distanced from them completely. To be fair, the cast are all strong, Saoirse Ronan (of Atonement) does a great job of portraying Suzie, lost in an in-between world, and Rachel Weisz brings a wonderful grieving grace to the part of Suzie’s mother. It would be been interesting to see what else she would have brought to the character had they decided to include her infidelity.
Overall, if what you want is a gentle couple of hours feasting on pretty shots and a poignant tale, then you won’t be disappointed by The Lovely Bones. However, if what you’re expecting is a faithful translation of the book, the tragedies, the horror and the joys, you may walk away underwhelmed, uncaring and unimpressed.