The UnPopular Opinion: The Lovely Bones
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
We have done a lot of critiques about Peter Jackson in this column. My predecessor lauded the divisive KING KONG while I slammed THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. Overall, I truly love the work Jackson has put out before and after THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Everything from the classic DEAD-ALIVE and the astounding HEAVENLY CREATURES to even the insanity of BAD TASTE and THE FRIGHTENERS. But, if you were to look at a single non-Tolkien film as a highlight of his career it would have to be THE LOVELY BONES.
Based on the bestselling novel by Alice Sebold, THE LOVELY BONES is a fantasy grounded in a dream-like reality. But, it also afforded Peter Jackson the opportunity to stretch his muscles in a way that did not involve creature designs or innovative technology for simulating massive battle sequences and large scale destruction. Rather, THE LOVELY BONES is the most intimate film he has directed since HEAVENLY CREATURES. In fact, if HEAVENLY CREATURES were to be made today with the budgets Jackson gets now, it likely would have looked a lot like THE LOVELY BONES. But Jackson manages to control himself and not give in to excess which results in a film that channels emotion viscerally with enhanced effects to drive home the fantastic tale.
Hey Susie, say hi to your mother for me.
To start, Peter Jackson has always managed to pull together actors who deliver stellar performances. Throughout his filmography are countless performers both established and new that are challenged to act in a way that may not be the norm. Jack Black turned in a more nuanced performance than his typical broad comedy in KING KONG while Andy Serkis revolutionized the art of motion capture acting. Here in THE LOVELY BONES, Jackson is able to capture stellar turns from Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, and Michael Imperioli. Saoirse Ronan once again shows that she is not going to remain a child actress but will continue to grow into a stellar adult actor as well, but it is Stanley Tucci who steals the entire film as the terrifying George Harvey.
There was contention when the trailer was released for THE LOVELY BONES that it revealed Tucci's role as Susie's killer to easily. Having not read the novel until after seeing the film, I was fine with the reveal as the point of THE LOVELY BONES is not a mystery but rather a meditation on loss and life. That sounds like New Age hogwash, but it is true. Like the Robin Williams film WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, THE LOVELY BONES is a very serious film wrapped with beautiful and ethereal visuals. But there is a lot of darkness in the movie. The anger that Mark Wahlberg's character feels as he searches for his daughter's killer popped up again when I watched Hugh Jackman in last year's PRISONERS. While that movie was a lot more intense than THE LOVELY BONES, they share a thematic connection: what does loss do to a family struggling to cope? We lauded PRISONERS for being an unflinching portrait of such a loss and we should regard THE LOVELY BONES in the same way.
I liked this scene better when it was my Windows XP wallpaper.
It is hard to call Susie's perspective in THE LOVELY BONES as original as deceased narrators have existed almost as long as fiction has. Even WHAT DREAMS MAY COME and GHOST offered similar narrative devices, but Peter Jackson manages to use his skills with special effects to create the afterlife without overindulging. While the recent HOBBIT films have used CGI to a fault, THE LOVELY BONES captures the unreality of Susie's purgatory without making it into a cartoon world. Some criticisms of the film said that Jackson failed to break any new ground visually and I could not agree more. But, THE LOVELY BONES was not meant to be a technology defining film. Jackson used his paintbrush rather than bricks and mortar with the special effects, creating something lush and otherwordly. Heaven and the afterlife are painted differently by every person and this is how Jackson interpreted Alice Sebold's words from the novel.
But that is only half of the film. The part grounded in the real world where Susie is a corpse in the ground is a haunting and shocking place that is not easy to witness. Even if you were to remove all scenes from Susie's afterlife, THE LOVELY BONES would have made a stark and unsettling drama. The sequence featuring Susie's sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) investigating George Harvey's home are thrillingly paced and shot. There is constantly a wanting and hoping through the film that justice will be served and all wrongs will be put right, but that is not the point of THE LOVELY BONES. There is no legal justice in this story, rather only emotional healing from all the characters. The fate of George Harvey is one that may have left some cold but furthers the point that this tale is not meant to set wrongs right but show how we cope with devastation.
Why does anyone trust single middle-aged men with glasses and mustaches? They are always serial killers. Always.
Brian Eno's score highlights the different settings, both physical and spiritual, in THE LOVELY BONES which simultaneously puts us into the 1970s and outside of time, giving the movie a timeless quality. There is no need for the bombast score we heard in KING KONG or THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but Eno is still able to provide a memorable soundtrack to the story. It also amplifies the fact that Peter Jackson's directing style, while distinct, can accomodate a wide array of styles. We have become so used to hearing the iconic Howard Shore music associated with Jackson that it is hard not to notice Eno's approach to accenting the scenes in THE LOVELY BONES. But, like the movie, it almost feels like the score has been overshadowed and forgotten by film fans.
It is difficult to say that THE LOVELY BONES is the most complex adaptation that Peter Jackson has undertaken considering that THE LORD OF THE RINGS is incredibly dense with history and language, but Alice Sebold's novel is by far the most emotionally intricate and thematically challenging project Jackson has ever undertaken. It would be amiss if movie fans did not experience THE LOVELY BONES in favor of Jackson's larger scale projects because, quite possibly, THE LOVELY BONES is the most epic tale he has ever translated to the big screen. It is a human story, one which is not easy for most to experience since it deals with violence, death, and pain, but those are all basic human experiences. Jackson found a way to take those and tell a story that deserved to be told with the filter of a master filmmaker. THE LOVELY BONES is a painful movie to watch, but in the best way possible. You cannot leave the film without needing to ask yourself some deep-seeded questions about belief and any movie that makes you question yourself has done it's job.