Harry says that LOVELY BONES is a lovely brutal film!
Published at: Nov. 23, 2009, 6:05 p.m. CST by headgeek
It is strange how sometimes you can’t shake a single word from your mind when you see a movie. It is especially ironic, if that single word is actually a part of the title for the film, but I really can’t think of a descriptive word more appropriate for LOVELY BONES, because LOVELY BONES is absolutely lovely.
I know what you’re thinking. How can a film about the rape and murder of a beautiful 14 year old girl be anything other than traumatic, but frankly… the film is lovely.
First, the recreation of the period is lovely. This is seventies America. The sort of time when a 14 year old girl would wear yellow bell bottoms and a blue parka without fear. When hand knitted head warmers with tinkly little bells would be cute. When big-feathered hair was a big deal for women, along with heavy eye makeup and platforms. The clothing of the time popped with color, pants were particularly colorful. The malls look… well; they look like they did in the 70s. They weren’t as BRANDED as today. Less signage, more products in windows. There’s something about the lighting that made me instantly nostalgic. In some ways, Andrew Lesnie’s lens reminds me a tad of Bob Clark’s A CHRISTMAS STORY. In A CHRISTMAS STORY, Reginald Morris’ cinematography was amongst the most loving set of lenses that has ever caught a period. With LOVELY BONES, it seems Lesnie was taking notes.
In particular, Susan Sarandon’s Grandma is such a callback to the glam grandmas of the seventies. Those 50’s Housewives, that became empowered women, that became cocktail sloshing ladies, and then later… those painted faced feathered haired hip grannies. My grandmother on my Mother’s side was very much like Susan’s grandma here. She dressed to the 9s, drank voraciously and was a failure at most everything she tried, yet was somehow magnificent in spite of it all. To me, Susan was note perfect. Lovely through and through. Her rather grown-up and slightly risqué conversation with Susie about her own first kiss… well, it’s a secret conversation from Grandmother to Granddaughter that could very well be the first time that Susie was ever treated like a woman. You can tell that all at once, she’s a bit disturbed, slightly titillated and totally envious.
Lovely also describes the performances throughout this film.
Take Mark Wahlberg’s Jack Salmon, the father character. I love that he builds ships in a bottle. I love his rationalization to little Susie, for why he does it. I love how at the beginning, he explains to little Susie about the Penguin with the scarf in the Snow Globe… that he’s happy inside his perfect little world. And how that becomes the rather sad metaphor for Susie’s existence in the afterlife. He’s a lovely man. Susie was his favorite child. She was his first child. Susie glowed in his eyes. She was the bright light of the family to him.
Then there’s Rachel Weisz’s Abigail Salmon, Susie’s mother. Of the family unit, she’s the least developed character. Rachel gives her so much, with such a little amount of time, that the end result is still powerful. Prior to Susie’s death – she’s the kinda of mom that would knit caps & scarves for her kids. She cooks dinner. She is in charge of the house and is the very picture of a lovely mom. After Susie disappears, she’s an emotional wreck as you would expect, but while her husband wallows in the memory of Susie, digs into the disappearance of their daughter and investigates everyone around them… She just wants to leave it all behind. Lock Susie’s door. Hide her memory behind them. And when Jack & her own mother make life at home impossible, she runs away from it all. Goes to a fruit farm to gather apples and bury herself in hard work. She needs to grieve alone, it is how she copes. I found this tragic, yet lovely.
Then there is Susie. Susie Salmon, like the fish. Saoirse Ronan reminds me of a young Jodie Foster, but less Tomboy. She has those slightly Gelfling / Elf-ish features. Big wide expressive and beautiful eyes. Watching her with her camera, what a wonderful spirit. She is at that age. That age when she’s still a girl, but she’s flirting with the notion of becoming a lady in the slightest of ways. She’s precocious, a bit obsessed with this guy at school named Ray Singh. He’s Indian, has the cutest accent and is just kinda dreamy through her eyes. She thinks he’s interested in her, but she doesn’t quite know. She’s interested in him, and only her Grandma knows it.
Susie is lovely. Just looking at Saoirse, you want her to grow up, you want to see what she would become had things been different. And the film worships her. If you’re watching this film and you don’t fall in love with Susie Salmon… there might very well be something dead in you. She’s an awesome young girl. And it makes you a bit sick inside.
I hadn’t read LOVELY BONES. I’m currently about 44 pages in as of the writing of this review, but I was scared of reading the book in advance of the film. I’ll admit it, I was a bit terrified of this movie before seeing it.
You see, my wife and I are discussing the possibilities of having a kid. We want to build our house first, but as everyone we know around us seem to be getting knocked up, it feels right. We definitely want kids, but I’ll be honest. Reading a book about a little girl being raped and murdered, then tracking her grieving family and her rapist/murderer from the safe confines of a personal heaven… well, frankly. That didn’t sound like something I wanted to put in my head. I don’t like thinking about the sex offenders living within 15 miles of me. I don’t like to think about the fact that we have Big Bad Wolves in the world preying upon our children. That’s about as ugly as it gets. And I’m someone that likes to think about the best of our world. It is why I throw Butt-Numb-A-Thons… to sponsor a year round film series for kids of amazing fun films that they otherwise won’t get to see. To me, we grown ups should endeavor to make a world that feels wondrous to kids. That feels awesome.
LOVELY BONES, as I knew it, felt like something that would taint my rather idealized notion of the world we live in.
This brings me to Stanley Tucci’s George Harvey. The Big Bad Wolf to Saoirse’s Little Red Riding Hood. Only, nobody is going to save her, there is no happy ending. The wolf is going to get her. There was never any doubt of that prior to seeing the film. My fear was… how horrible would the “scene” be. In the book, it is stomach turning. In the film, the scene is handled a bit impressionistic, but I’m getting a head of myself.
Tucci is introduced as the man who kills Susie. We know this, because Susie tells us this. She narrates the film from her heavenly vantage… and it fills us with dread, even as we’re falling in love with her. She’s at such a sweetly innocent and pure stage of being a girl on the precipice of teenage first love. An absolutely magical place and time in anyone’s life. Tragically so here.
Stanley Tucci is invisible as Mr Harvey. His hair, face and eyes are all changed due to make-up, hair and creepy as hell contacts. He makes dollhouses. He has manicured rose bushes that are beautiful. He’s deliberate. He’s not someone that does anything without preparation. He knows the devil is in the details, and he outlines, prioritizes, draws up plans. He’s an effective Wile Coyote, without a giggle.
When he finally comes out of the shadows to invite little Susie Salmon into the secret underground clubhouse he’s built for the neighborhood children… my blood went cold. My heart froze. This isn’t the warmly awesome hole in the ground that Bilbo lived in, this is that personal rape & murder hole that a piece of shit built to victimize a little girl. He decorates it with creepily dated KID things, to put his victim at ease. There are candles, to create a slight sense of warmth to this ungodly place. As Susie begins to feel uncomfortable, he offers her a Coke. She insists on getting home. He uses Grown Up Authority, and tells her not to be rude. A chill went down my spine.
At this point, my hands went up to my face. I was scared to death about what Peter Jackson was about to assault me with. You remember the killing scene in HEAVENLY CREATURES. Peter can be vicious when he wants to, and I was terrified. I literally couldn’t stomach anything approaching a graphic rape and murder of Saoirse Ronan. I was in knots. Peeking through parted fingers. Once the tension got excruciating, right as I was about to shut down and hate the screen, Peter goes impressionistic, ethereal and haunting, rather than the obvious brutal ugliness that is in the mind of every viewer at these moments.
In the book, we read about Mr Harvey’s drooling, sloppy kisses. We’re spared, thank god. Once you see Tucci’s Harvey, your mind can imagine – and you’ll hate your mind for the images it could create. Peter knows this. So he didn’t need to show the horror to you. Instead he leaves it to you, lets your stomach knot up – and even though he doesn’t show it to you – the knots remain. The sick sharp knife of disgust is twisted, via the emotion of the family when a knit cap in an evidence bag is plopped upon a family dinner table. They have hopes, the detective crushes them, when he mentions how much blood was found at the scene. The knife twists as the Salmon parents’ eyes well up.
I could go on describing the rest of the film. But frankly I think I’ve conveyed what needs to be conveyed. This is a lovely film about the toughest of times. The film is reassuring in a slightly karmic way, it is never ever exploitive – but is instead, incredibly personal. Susie’s adventures in the in-between are amazing, heart-breaking and quite revealing. They combine elements seen in her room and life at the Salmon home…. But also within the realm of her death scene and the world of her murderer. She’s an angry spirit, but oddly still innocent. She seems to be spared the worst of the memory of the actual event, having repressed it – or perhaps spared by the otherworldly nature of the afterlife. But it is all lovely.
This is an incredibly lovely film. From the visuals to the performances to the story-telling and film work… it all goes to capture a very powerful story in a way that makes you want to hug those close to you.
After the film, my wife and I began discussing the movie. As I started talking about how much I loved Saoirse Ronan’s Susie. How vital and how alive she was – Yoko’s eyes welled up and through blubber speak, she talked about how much she wanted to see that character grow up, and how she just thinks of everything she missed. Everything that was taken away. And I had to comfort her.
This is an incredibly powerful film, masterfully told and captured as only cinema in the hands of a consummate storyteller can tell it. LOVELY BONES will be one of the films of the year. I imagine that some of Peter’s choices in adaptation could very well be hotly debated amongst readers of the book.
My wife loved the film, but missed scenes from the book of Susie and the Heavenly high school – and she missed Susie following her little sister growing up, as they were her favorite passages and sequences in the book. Those things are touched on, but Peter focuses more intensely on her experiences in her personal heaven, the people she meets there, her father and the story of George Harvey. A bit of what happens with Ray Singh and the strange girl named Ruth, played perfectly by Carolyn Dando.
Everything about the film is lovely, in particular the score by Brian Eno, Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography, the effects work, production design and the lovely performances.
Most importantly, the movie made me go out and buy the book afterwards, which is the highest complement that a film adaptation can give its source material. It implants a desire to read the source material.