Friday, January 15, 2010

In Which Trai Offers Her Opinions on 'The Lovely Bones: The Movie'

I finally got to see the film adaptation of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones today. Stupid confusing limited release/wide release schedule. Ugh. Just a warning, there will be comparisons here between the book and the movie, and probably a bunch of spoilers for either, so don't read if you don't want to be spoiled.

Before I begin, can I say that the poster (pictured) freaks me out immensely? I first saw it at my campus bookstore as the cover to the movie tie-in edition, and wow. Yeah. I'm gonna have Stanley-Tucci-in-a-cornfield nightmares.

Okay. I'll describe the plot of the book as best I can. Susie Salmon is fourteen years old when the book opens, and the book opens in a bit of a unique way-- Susie tells us that she was fourteen years old when she was murdered in the 1970s.

She goes on to describe that back in the seventies, it was an era where people still wanted to believe that disappearances, murders, didn't happen. It is also an era that seems hopelessly dated to people like me, who grew up seeing forensic science figure in a BIG way on crime shows. Forensic science is frustratingly far behind in this novel, which is part of the reason Susie's murderer gets away with what he does to her.

On her way home from school, Susie is lured into an underground structure made by her loner neighbor, the (really creepy) Mr. Harvey. Susie knows he is alone and wants to be nice, although she quickly realizes what a bad idea this is as Harvey makes her linger longer and longer. He rapes her and then murders her, dismembering her and then collapsing the structure, burying the evidence of his crime and hiding her body in a safe in his basement.

Susie's family is eventually informed of her demise when her elbow is found by a neighbor's dog. Though part of her body is found, Mr. Harvey is never caught. The novel tracks Susie's family and friends and Mr. Harvey as the family deals with their grief and Susie watches over them all from Heaven-- all the while wishing her murderer could be caught.

Overall, the movie was fairly faithful to the book. Things weren't so much changed as they were left out, and the screenwriters did a good job of deciding what had to be taken out if ONE thing was taken out in the beginning. However, the film suffered from feeling really choppy in the middle-- the sense of time passing was REALLY screwed up. I'll try to explain the differences below.

The biggest, most conspicuous difference between the book and the movie was understandable but still made it feel like something HUGE was missing-- in the movie, Mr. Harvey kills Susie but doesn't rape her. I can understand why this was taken out-- a rape scene featuring a 14-year-old girl (Saoirse Ronan was 13 at the time of filming, and not even allowed to read the book) would probably turn off a lot of moviegoers, though a lot of them are already turned off by her murder in the first place. Anyway, since the rape is taken out, a big chunk of the theme of the book is gone, too.

A major part of the book is Susie trying to learn about what she missed out on in life by watching her family from Heaven. Since her first and only sexual experience is so violent, she tries to learn about sex by watching her family. She watches her mother's affair with the leading investigator on her case, and her little sister Lindsey's first sexual experience as she passes the age Susie was when she dies. She begins to get a feel for what sex is like when it's not violent. At the end of the book, when she returns to Earth in the body of a girl she knew, Ruth Connor, she has sex (in Ruth's body) with Ray Singh, her crush whom she only got to kiss in the days before her death. She finally gets to have sex with someone she loved, fulfilling her wish.

Since the rape is gone from the movie, NONE of this happens there. Susie's sex with Ray is turned into a sweet kiss (the kiss they had while Susie was alive is eliminated from the movie). I had mixed feelings about the absence of ALL the sexual material. I think it was probably for ratings reasons, but it made the whole thing feel weird.

I first read the book when I was 14 and it was summer reading for school. The fact that Susie was learning about sex in Heaven by watching over people weirded me out-- it felt way too much like voyeurism for me to be comfortable. I re-read the book this past summer and understood it more, and it felt less skeevy the second time around. When I saw the movie today, I took a friend whom I'd loaned the book to a couple years ago. We were discussing it after the movie and both agreed that we could understand why the sexual content was missing, but agreed that since it was such a big part of the book, it really made the movie feel like something huge was missing. And the things that were there were skimmed over-- Lindsey's boyfriend and true love, Samuel, is present, but the poor guy isn't even given a name or a line of dialogue, for God's sake. He gives Lindsey her first kiss and Susie sees it from Heaven and is happy for Lindsey. And... that's it. That's all we get.

The other thing that could've been done better was the passage of time, which was very poorly handled. We get only four indications time has passed:

1) Len (the cop) says it's been 11 months since Susie's murder.
2) Abigail and Jack (Susie's parents) give Susie 24 rolls of film for a camera, and she uses them all. They say they'll develop a roll a month, and Jack does this after her death. He reaches the last roll and it's assumed two years have gone by. (I went with my friend and my parents and was the only one who caught this one, so it probably could've been more explicit.)
3) Lindsey ages from 12 to her twenties, presumably.
4) Mr. Harvey flips through a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about Lindsey's accomplishments that lead us to believe time has passed.

While we are shown time has passed, we see almost no indication of what has happened in that time. It really felt like the entire middle of the book was missing. The book handled the time passage through a chapter called "Snapshots" where Susie offers brief sentences about what happened in the passing years, but without that here, it felt too choppy. All of us were completely confused about how old everyone should've been by the end.

Now, for the things I liked about the movie:

1) Wow, was I impressed with the girl who played Lindsey, Rose McIver. They managed to make the aging COMPLETELY believable, which was so impressive considering how many years she progressed through.
2) Mark Wahlberg (Jack), Stanley Tucci (Mr. Harvey), and Susan Sarandon (Lynn) were PERFECT. Mark Wahlberg was a really convincing father who really wants to know what happened to his daughter, and he made me feel for him. Stanley Tucci... well, um, I might show his performance to my kids one day to teach them about Stranger Danger, let's put it that way. Susan Sarandon was the BEST choice for a period-correct grandmother; the movie needed her humor and she was wonderful.
3) The fact that the sex scene between Ruth!Susie and Ray was changed to just a kiss-- it made it less creepy. I just didn't like how they showed Susie's face instead of Ruth's-- I know they were trying not to confuse the viewers by showing Ruth, but it felt awkward.
4) The fact that Abigail's affair with Len was excised. Made her way more sympathetic in my eyes.

Overall, I was decently satisfied with the movie. I'd been looking forward to it since I saw the cast ages ago. I love, love, love Saoirse Ronan-- Atonement is one of my favorite movies (and books!), and she impressed me so much with the way that she could express EXACTLY what Briony was feeling with her eyes. She did a pretty good job as Susie, though she doesn't have too much more to do than narrate, but that's how it should be. There are more changes than I listed here, but this is long enough! I liked most of what was done to the movie, just felt it could have been a little better handled at some points.

Happy reading/viewing!
- Trai

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