Published Jan 14, 2010While most folks know New Zealand native Peter Jackson for his visual mastery on The Lord of the Rings epics, others may remember the more personal and intimate Heavenly Creatures, a film that, similarly to The Lovely Bones, dealt with nascent, suppressed female passions in a fantastical light. Both films ring clear with sincerity but where Creatures less self-consciously succeeded in tonality and unspoken understandings, Bones, for greater audience appeal, dips into the literal and broad, suffering occasional inconsistencies as a result.
Adapted from the Alice Sebold novel of the same name, this tale of unfulfilled worldly desires and annihilation anxiety finds 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) working through the transition of girl to woman against a '70s backdrop. As noted early on, these were the days when parents didn't think of kidnapping and violence in their neighbourhoods, leaving paranoia outside with their unsupervised children.
Of course, knowing the world today, Susie's attack and demise at the hands of George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) sadly comes as no surprise. The majority of the film then finds our confused protagonist in a sort of purgatory, watching over her suffering parents (played by Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg), struggling to let not only them go, but a world that continues to revolve without her.
What makes this all work, mostly, despite reducing a girl's fantasies to that of fairy tale wonder, is an intense understanding of the pain of meaninglessness and letting go. Susie's lingering may keep those she loved suffering but it means she existed nonetheless. This thematic existential vein is the sort of thing that most people deliberately avoid, rather than assessing and coming to terms with, which says something for Jackson's work.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that of audience expectations. Normally, a film like this would come as a thoughtful, low-key, emotional movie for a select audience to appreciate. But Jackson's pedigree puts his work on the radar for folks looking for more literal-minded, riveting, aesthetic action, which in turn leads to disappointment and bad word-of-mouth.
Regardless, while partially flawed, the lush handling and central humanizing force of The Lovely Bones successfully communicates the intended, devastating message, aided by sharp performances by Ronan, Tucci and Weisz. (Paramount)