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The complaints I have about The Lovely Bones are pet peeves and stylistic differences of opinion, so I’m surprised there aren’t more defenders of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel. After all, his breakout film (outside of horror circles) was Heavenly Creatures, which also featured young female protagonists and fantastic landscapes brought to life.

Beware the unstylish single man who plays with dollhouses
Beware the unstylish single man who plays with dollhouses

Susie and Her Killer

The Lovely Bones is narrated by the ghost of Susie Salmon (played by charismatic Saoirse Ronan). It tells the story of her murder, and the people she loved before and after.

The movie isn’t limited to Susie’s perspective; we also learn a little about her killer, who has an obsessive interest in dollhouses. He’s a single, childless, male with thinning hair, out-of-fashion eyeglasses, and a beige members only-style jacket (lest you had any doubts about his creepiness).

In fact, many of my complaints about The Lovely Bones trace back to how stereotypically creepy the killer is.

The Skeevies

Take the film’s stylization. There is a scene where Susie is talking to her murderer. It’s already a creepy setup because, first, we know what he will eventually do, and second, he’s misusing his position of trust. But Jackson tries to make it even creepier with music, camera angles, and pacing, as though an audience wouldn’t already understand the emotion of the scene. Throughout the film, Jackson puts too much effort into conveying emotions that are already apparent.

And take the moral implications. Ronan is a bright, chipper, very likeable young actor. She stands in stark contrast to the ugly loser Stanley Tucci plays (poor guy). I understand that storytellers and audiences alike equate beauty with goodness and ugliness with evil. But as a childless male, I felt a little stereotyped and prejudged. And that would not necessarily be a fault of the film... if that were all there were to it.

But in this case, Susie’s entire family convince themselves that the man next door is the killer. They have no evidence; they only have weird gut feelings. Susie says he gives her “the skeevies.” And acting on nothing more but these bad vibes, the family stalks him, breaks into his house, and sets out to assault him with a baseball bat. Granted, in this film, they happen to be right about the man’s guilt. But these are things that decent folk and movie protagonists should not do.

Disney Happy Ending

There are some exuberant, fantastical, visual effects in The Lovely Bones, but that isn’t really saying much. In 1994, when Peter Jackson released Heavenly Creatures, the use of fantastic effects in something other than an action movie or a horror film was a bold decision. These days, computer-generated effects are standard operating procedure, and they don’t add enough to save the film.

To top it off, the story ends with what my family has come to call a “Disney happy ending.” Loyal readers will know what I’m talking about, but rather than spoil it for you, I’ll just say that it’s a cop-out often resorted to in less-than-thoughtful adventure stories.

Somehow that seems like a fitting end to The Lovely Bones.