Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Lovely Bones

If you’re not a fan of the book, there are only two reasons to watch The Lovely Bones. One, Saoirse Ronan’s acting. Two, the CGI. Everything else is… well, I’ll get to that.

The story is straightforward. Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon is lured into a hideaway by a neighbor and killed there, but her spirit, from heaven, watches as her father and sister try to find out the truth and slowly put their lives back together. The theme is one of accepting what we can’t change, relinquishing what we can’t have and learning to let go. But in a happy way, because there’s something good ahead.

Saoirse Ronan is a talented actress, and it’s difficult not to like her as a teenager who’s by turns exuberant, shy, annoyed with her parents and filled with dreams—typical, in other words. And the scene where Mr. Harvey meets her in the cornfield and persuades her to check out a cool underground room is very tense.

Stanley Tucci’s performance as George Harvey is… mostly good. A bespectacled middle-aged man, he’s the embodiment of the phrase “banality of evil”. What I found a bit difficult to buy was the way he babbles and giggles once he’s lured Susie down. I get that he’s excited (while Susie quickly realizes something’s wrong) but he’s more scary when he’s calm and serious.

What I also found difficult to buy was that he excavated this room in a field in winter and no one noticed. There’s a shot of him digging at night, but it’s still an elaborate feat of secret construction. Still, the best way to enjoy this film is not to think deeply. For instance, if I went to my personal heaven (a limbo meant for people who haven’t yet moved on), I would want to be with people I cared about. Instead, Susie gets Holly, a girl who appears out of nowhere and who tells Susie nothing about herself, but who becomes Susie’s BFF.

If you’ve ever watched Mary Poppins, remember the scene where they go into the chalk painting? Something similar happens here. With her new pal, Susie romps through a magical landscape that keeps changing to entertain her. No lingering trauma from murder, no attempts to change anything or tell her family the truth.

And it’s clear that she can influence the occasional event on Earth, if she tries hard, but her major accomplishment there is to put herself in a living girl's body so she can finally kiss the boy she likes. Meanwhile, just outside, Mr. Harvey disposes of the safe containing Susie’s body, which she knows about. Yet the kiss is more important.

I suppose that was part of her acceptance-and-letting-go, to not care about her body… but wouldn’t her parents care? Wouldn’t they want her remains to be laid to rest with dignity, rather than never even knowing where she might lie?

But, like I said, don’t think too much. Or you might wonder, if the real heaven is a place where there’s “no memory”, is there a blank in your mind when you try to think of how you got there? And it’s clear that Susie’s heaven is influenced by other victims of Mr. Harvey’s, which leads to a truly schmaltzy scene where all of them come smiling out of the horizon while the music swells.

I did get teary when the little girl—the youngest victim, who’s six—gives Susie an evaluating look, then smiles, runs up to her and hugs her around the waist. But then I wondered, is that girl going to stay six years old for ever? An eternal child, frozen at the moment she died? Anne Rice did that more realistically with Claudia in Interview with the Vampire.

I understand why the joyous get-together, since there was a previous scene when Susie’s heaven showed her the corpses Harvey had discarded, so Jackson had to assure the audience that these women and girls are now frolicking in paradise. Plus, they’re all friends together in a Raped-N-Murdered club.

But back on earth, Susie’s father is ham-handed in his attempts to find her killer and to stop Harvey, whom he suspects despite having no evidence. So her sister breaks into Harvey’s house to find some. This is the second tension-filled scene in the film, though I have no idea why the sister carefully leafs through Harvey’s scrapbook upstairs even after she hears him enter the house. Wouldn’t it be better to leave and then check out the book?

Still, all ends well. This isn't a bad film per se, just a slow-moving one which has little going for it besides its prettiness and philosophizing. I couldn’t help sympathizing with one reviewer who said Susie’s endless voiceovers became so annoying that if she wasn’t already dead, he would have shot her.


Maria Zannini said...

I never could read the book or watch the movie because the subject matter is too intense for me.

Once I did catch the ending of the movie before realizing what it was and it left me wanting because I felt the issues were left too neatly wrapped.

Michelle Athy said...

The book was much better. But I will say that that scene where the sister sneaks into Harvey's house is just as tense as I remember it being in the book.

Marian Perera said...

Maria - apparently Mr. Harvey's karmic death was added in because test audiences were dissatisfied that he got away with his crimes. Personally, I'd have preferred him being caught and held accountable. Though that does raise the question - does he go to his own personal heaven afterwards?

Michelle - Yes, I think the book developed Ruth Connors more as a character too.

Barbara Martin said...

I read the book some time ago, but I don't think I would ever watch the movie due to the subject matter.