“The Lovely Bones” loses the novel’s magic – and its lesbian

I really wanted to love The Lovely Bones.

The book is a favorite of mine, despite its harsh subject matter, because of the intimacy with which Alice Sebold tells the story of Susie Salmon, who was murdered and raped by a neighbor when she was 14. (If you haven’t read the novel, check out Sarah Warn’s excellent review from a few years ago.) It’s not a book for everyone, by any means, but when I finished it, I immediately started reading it again.

That’s not how I felt when I saw the movie. In fact, I felt very little at all, despite strong performances, most notably by Sairose Ronan, who played Susie.

Here’s the very promising trailer:

 

The problem may be that The Lovely Bones novel relies on a delicate balance of mysticism and reality that is difficult to translate to the big screen. The director, Peter Jackson (LOTR), relies on CGI to create the “in-between” — the way station between earth and heaven from which Susie tells her story.

Sebold paints the in-between with great detail and, understandably, Jackson tries to create an equally magic setting in the movie. The effects, as beautiful as they are, seem separate from Susie. (They are, of course, but a viewer shouldn’t be so aware of technique during the movie.)

We know from Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures that he is capable of using effects for character development, so his failure to do so in The Lovely Bones is disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong — some of the digital imagery succeeds in spades. For example, when Susie’s dad Jack (Mark Wahlberg) puts a candle in the window as a way to connect with his daughter, the candle’s reflection flickers while the candle itself is still, telling Jack that Susie is indeed present. I wish we’d seen more moments like that.

Of particular interest to AfterEllen.com readers is the omission of any hint that Susie’s classmate Ruth (Carolyn Dando) is a lesbian, as she was in the novel. In fact, Ruth’s importance in the book was downplayed in the film to the point of being almost superfluous.

Worse, failing to define Ruth’s lesbianism changes the nature of the scene in which Susie’s spirit occupies Ruth’s body in order to make love to high school boyfriend Ray (Reece Ritchie). A lesbian Ruth would not sleep with Ray; a straight Ruth might. Why even bother with the scene if its magic is suspect?

Perhaps I’m being too hard on The Lovely Bones because I expected so much. I’d love to hear from you. Did anyone see the movie without reading the book first? What did you think? And if you did read and enjoy the novel, how did you like the film version?

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