The movie adaptation of this book suffers by the very nature of it’s genre. Some words should not leap from the page. Or rather, maybe not at the hands of certain directors in certain countries. Hollywood requires particular elements from its films, and Peter Jackson’s inclusion of them flips the essence of this poor story completely over. Something like a pancake. Same ingredients, same outcome and boundaries but without question the wrong side of the pancake. I was very disappointed.
(my analogy may seem slightly preposterous for, while I would argue there is a right and wrong side of a pancake, many would not. Stick with me for a minute.)
Beware: Spoilers begin!
For those of you who have read the book, you know that Susie Salmon is a beautiful girl who has been murdered by a neighbour and, within a hundred pages, is looking down on her family from an afterlife that is not quite the heaven she deserves. From there she watches her mother, father, siblings – friends too – move through the excruciating process of grieving the loss of a loved one taken away by violence.
While the now dead Susie is the title and central character of the beginning, her older sister Lindsey emerges through the remaining pages after the murder to be a twin spire. She very literally grows into the role of heroine. Or at least the one I believe in. The Lovely Bones became for me more of Lindsey’s story than Susie’s. How else, nay why else would the bones be described as “lovely”?
And yet in Hollywood there can be only one leading actress. Any others take a back burner of one kind or another. And in the movie, Saoirse Ronan – best known to me for her starring role in The City of Ember – supplants Lindsey, effectively moving the focus of the story off the healing of a family and onto the letting go of the family by the deceased. Definitely the flip side. The result? Much subtlety and character development is lost, and the whole dizzying heart-wrenching account stops spinning altogether.
Jackson attempts to reinforce this retelling with stunning panoramas that only a visual medium such as a film can provide. Someone should have reminded him how important actual story is. Flowers easily distract this man and, while beautiful, fail to deepen the viewer’s connection to the Susie while ignoring Lindsey. It’s too bad that the heart, which would render them so alive, is left out.
As counterweight, I must mention how superb the acting performances are. The actors carry this movie. I loved Wahlbert and Weisz. Shrank into the corner of the futon at Tucci. But in the end, The Lovely Bones as a movie was a creepy sad horrible story that falls way short of making up for the atrocity of putting yourself through the sadness of watching it. The redemption just does not shine through and seems too focused on the death, on the experience of death, than on the lives still being lived. Not surprising for the guy who made Meet the Feebles, but so much MUCH less from the same man who gave us the LOTR films.
ps. I don’t usually review movies – if this can be called a review – because I don’t care enough about them to do so. Books are my weakness and one true love, to be sure. And yet when I got talking to someone about this movie, my explanation of dislike fell so far short of what I felt in my heart that it became this blog post as I was more and more determined to clarify. I’m glad to have taken up the challenge.
For the difficulty of laying down one thought after another, connecting them with stronger and stronger mortar and having a completed structure to present taught me an invaluable lesson… My opinion on this movie matters very little. It is not what I am saying, but how I am saying it that makes a person read, understand and – hopefully, please, hopefully – nod their head in agreement. My challenge is to write well, to pass on the infection of caring about something. Hopefully I’ve been sufficiently naughty. Peace.