An indistinctive stew of genres best describes Peter Jackson and Co.’s attempt at adapting the Alice Sebold novel “The Lovely Bones.” Part murder mystery, part family drama and part Salvador Dali painting, the film suffers an epic identity crisis which it hopes to mask by drowning you in evocative symbolism.
Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan of “Atonement”) is a 14-year-old who is murdered by a neighbor and finds herself observing the ensuing events in her family’s life from “The In- Between,” a purgatory she is stuck in until both she and her family can learn to let go and move forward. Susie’s lingering spiritual presence in the real world allows her to give her family some unfounded suspicions toward the man who killed her, Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci).
When no legitimate reason exists for a character to behave a certain way other than some sixth sense they have, it’s tough to buy “The Lovely Bones” as the solving of a murder. The first 30 minutes of the film have enough emotional pull that we want Mr. Harvey to get busted pretty badly, but it’s terribly unrealistic.
The fantasy element of Susie existing in the in-between where the climate/environment around her changes constantly is an over-reaching metaphor that you couldn’t care less about. Jackson’s team makes this world a lot more visually impressive than films such as “What Dreams May Come,” but the foundation of the story lies in the real world, the hook and crux of it at least. The symbolism of the gazebo Susie stands on to watch her family and the cornfield present themselves quite obviously, but the script provides little motivation to analyze them. The rest of the Salmon family dealing with the aftermath on the real world plane is far more interesting.
The existence of two worlds permits Jackson to intercut a lot of scenes of one world with that of the other. Some of these scenes impress, such as Susie’s father (Mark Wahlberg) smashing his collection of bottled ships in anger at her death while Susie sees large bottled ships crashing and shattering on the shores of the In-Between. The scene where Susie is eventually killed lasts close to ten minutes as well as it’s intercut with what her family is doing at the time. Like much of this film, sometimes the technique works beautifully, other times it’s executed until tedium.
The surrealism quality and dual nature of the film keep it from achieving its metaphoric and symbolic goals with regards to death and moving on. Despite superb direction and visual effects, the elements are not seamless enough, try as Jackson might to link scenes together constantly. Emotional symbolism can never fully replace logic and the In-Between is presented to us without any clarity of rules. “The Lovely Bones” should have been a moving family story, not a scattered piece of art with family elements.
The Lovely Bones
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Alice Sebold (novel)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz