The Lovely Bones
I shouldn't have been surprised to see this at BNAT, but the fact that it was released already (albeit only in NY and LA) threw me off. Of course, as Harry reasoned, anyone coming from either of those cities would have spent the only day it had been out so far traveling to Austin anyway. This was the fifth BNAT film by perennial BNAT favorite Peter Jackson. I have not read Alice Sebold's novel, but apparently the film takes a great deal of liberty, so let's get that out of the way first. It's based on the novel, but make no mistake, this is Jackson's vision.
We meet Susie Salmon (like the fish) at age 14, which will be her age for eternity. She lives a fairly normal suburban life in the 1970s. Her mother (Rachel Weisz) is a free-spirit who loves books. Her father (Mark Wahlberg) is a kind, simple guy who likes to build ships in a bottle. She has a younger sister and brother, and ever since her parents got her one of those classic 110 cameras (which must have been fairly new at the time) she's becoming quite a photographer. Her grandmother (Susan Sarandon) visits occasionally and is quite possibly a bad influence on her grandchildren. There's a strange guy who lives near her, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), but she doesn't think much about him. Most importantly, there is a beautiful boy at her school who writes poems and is unaccountably interested in her (unaccountably from Susie's perspective, that is), and even makes a date with her. A date which she will never be able to keep.
Susie is on her way home from school, later than most days because she has stayed for a film club. She's crossing an open field and is approached by George. He lures her into a little below-ground grotto he's built, supposedly for the kids in the neighborhood. She's very impressed by it, but as she's running late she gets up to go and he stops her, using what I feel is an especially disgusting tactic in child abuse - acting as a parental figure and giving advice or admonition that a child has been conditioned to accept, because it's coming from an adult. It may be simple, but his telling her to "be polite" sent a chill down my spine. Thankfully, we are spared what actually happens to Susie, but there is no doubt as to what he generally did to her.
The rest of the movie is difficult to explain and it would be pointless for me to do so to any great extent, I think. Susie is no longer alive, but not yet where she ultimately will be. She has a sort of connection to her family from the beyond, especially her father, who it seems can sort of hear her and is almost guided by her feelings. Her little brother also seems to know much more than he should about what is happening to her after her death. I'm not sure why the studio has been selling this as a thriller. It's more of a study on grief, from both sides of the "veil," as it were. There is no mystery about who killed Susie. We know from near the beginning who it is. The film deals instead with Susie's attempts to move on to the next world and her family's struggle to move on in their own world without her in it.
I have problems with fictional versions of the afterlife, especially when stories portray people who have died and are watching their loved ones from the beyond. Aside from it clashing with my biblical beliefs, I just don't feel that watching my loved ones suffer on Earth after I'm gone is any kind of heaven at all. For this reason, I was very apprehensive about the afterlife element and what appeared to be Susie keeping tabs on her family after her death. It works here because the connection to her family is a symptom of her not being able to move on to heaven. Not being able to let go and let them move on is what ultimately holds her back. And I suspect the family's reluctance to let go of her is also part of why she takes so long to let go of them.
The film didn't go where I expected it to, and that's a good thing. I kind of loved that you get the satisfaction of the truth coming out, and you also get the satisfaction of seeing the murderer pay a karmic price for his crime. But they're not really connected. I especially loved that it didn't go the revenge route. You do, however, get the sense that in addition to letting go of her earthly life, Susie can't really have peace until there's some kind of justice about her murder.
I also loved the shout-outs. AICN's Quint made an appearance as an extra in a bookstore scene and Peter Jackson made a cameo as well as a guy buying a movie camera. There was also a lingering shot over a display of Tolkien books in the bookstore. Heh.
Wonderful, beautiful film. It's probably not for everyone, and I think parents will find it especially difficult, but well worth a look.