Peter Jackson (best known for The Lord of the Rings films) directed this surprisingly touching and understated adaptation of a novel by Alice Sebold. Like Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging it’s told from the viewpoint of a 14-year-old girl, but it’s a completely different and much darker sort of film.
At the start the heroine tells us in a voiceover, “My name is Salmon, like the fish. First name: Susie. I was 14 years old when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973.”
But before we get to that part of her story we spend some time getting to know Susie, who is very well portrayed by a young actress of talent and distinctive beauty named Saoirse Ronan. We’re introduced to her parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz), her amusingly daft grandmother (Susan Sarandon), her brother and sister (Christian Ashdale and Rose McIver), and the handsome and likable boy she’s smitten with (Reece Ritchie). She has no idea he knows she exists, but at the end of school one day he surprises her by asking her to meet him at the mall, and it’s clear he likes her as much as she likes him.
Less than an hour later, a neighbor rapes and murders her.
By this point I’d come to really like Susie, and I’m grateful that her death is not shown on screen. I don’t think I could have watched it. (Apparently it’s described in detail in the novel, the author having herself been raped at the same age.)
Susie lingers on Earth, at first unaware she’s dead, then watching as her disappearance tears her family apart and seeing how much the boy she never got to kiss misses her. A mysterious little girl, another ghost, keeps urging Susie to move on to the next stage in the afterlife, but Susie isn’t ready to let go.
The Lovely Bones is a tragic ghost story but not at all unendurably sad. It’s strange and atmospheric and certainly not everyone’s sort of film, but I liked it better than anything else I’ve seen by Peter Jackson, and I recommend it.