As fans of the bestselling novel will immediately recognize, the film omits the fact that 14 year-old Susie (Saoirse Ronan) is brutally raped by her neighbor Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) before being killed. While the book describes the scene in startling, almost poetic detail, the scene is totally left out of the movie, as is any depiction of Susie's murder, which both take place in the first chapter of the book. In Alice Sebold's 2002 novel, narrator Susie Salmon says that until her rape and murder, her family never understood what the word horror meant. But astonishingly, any true sense of horror is notably absent from the film adaptation of 'The Lovely Bones,' written and directed by 'Lord of the Rings'' Peter Jackson, with screenwriting help from frequent collaborators Philippa Boyens and Jackson's wife Fran Walsh.
As fans of the bestselling novel will immediately recognize, the film omits the fact that 14 year-old Susie (Saoirse Ronan) is brutally raped by her neighbor Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) before being killed. While the book describes the scene in startling, almost poetic detail, the scene is totally left out of the movie, as is any depiction of Susie's murder, which both take place in the first chapter of the book.
Instead, Jackson takes us to the underground cave creepy Harvey has built, lets us get sufficiently uncomfortable and then allows Susie to escape out into the night (by this point she's a ghost).
Sebold, the book's author, knows firsthand what it means to be raped -- she told the story of her own horrific experience in her memoir, 'Lucky.' To her readers, it's obvious that her personal experience has informed 'The Lovely Bones.' By choosing to make the film more palatable to a PG-13 audience, Jackson takes the sting off of Sebold's story and ultimately does a dishonor to her brave, no b.s. writing.
Jackson was quoted as saying that he and his wife wanted to make the movie "so that it would be watchable by their 13 year-old daughter." It's here that Jackson lets his fatherhood become a conflict of interest when it comes to directing. 'The Lovely Bones' the movie is a white-washed tale. It's upsetting, but not horrific. Jackson, thinking of his own Susie Salmon-aged daughter, can't bear to depict the truth of the situation, so he resorts to toying around with CGI (giving us a vision of Susie's heaven that looks a whole lot like a computer screen-saver). In Jackson's version, Susie's dad Jack (Mark Wahlberg) is the main character -- a good man bent on never giving up the quest to find his daughter.
But this has nothing to do with the book Sebold wrote, which is more about the observation of life from a distance and the inherent sophistication of a teenager who is cut off just as she is on the brink of "crossing over" in a different way -- from childhood to adulthood. By making a movie his daughter could watch (and perhaps underestimating her maturity), Jackson does a disservice to his adult audience.
It's surprising -- not only because the 'Rings' director is one of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood -- but also because his 'Heavenly Creatures,' the 1994 movie based on the true story of two teenage girls (one of them played by Kate Winslet, in her breakout role) who conspired to murder one of their mothers, was so unflinching. But then again, that was before he and Walsh became parents.