"I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973."
The Lovely Bones is a highly acclaimed, best-selling 2002 novel by Alice Sebold. Its heroine is Susie Salmon, who posthumously narrates the story of her family after her own rape and murder in December 1973. While she watches from her own private heaven, grief throws her family into disarray, and when the police investigation yields no clues, Susie's father and sister take matters into their own hands when clues lead them toward the actual murderer.The book was adapted to film by Peter Jackson and released in 2009. It stars Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon.
The Book Provides examples of:
Adult Fear: The premise is based on the worst possible outcome of the "Oh shit, my daughter was supposed to be home hours ago; what if she's dead?" fear.
Chekhov's Gun: In the book it might be argued it is the mention of the icicle. If Susie is narrating the story as we read it post her going to the bigger heaven then her mentioning of it as her perfect weapon is her foreshadowing that will be the cause of death for her murderer
Childhood Friend Romance: Successful for Lindsey and Samuel. And possibly for Susie and Ray in that one would never live past childhood, but they did find a way.
Death by Irony: The eventual fate of Susie's killer? Killed by an icicle that drops on him. There's an incident earlier in the book where Susie refers to the "perfect murder" game played in heaven. The weapon she always picks? An icicle, because it melts away. Also consider that Susie might be narrating from the future to make that line a foreshadowing or later she mentions the ability to affect somethings on Earth, (like Buckley's garden).
Devil in Plain Sight: Notwithstanding the possibility that he likely would have been sighted at some point while building his "clubhouse" (or, after the murder, while destroying it), Mr. Harvey engages in lots of very suspicious behavior that should have at the very least led the police to consider him as a suspect earlier in the investigation than they do. Jack is no better, naming just about every person he can think of who had any contact with Susie to the police before he starts suspecting Harvey.
Justified Trope: The story takes place in the '70s, before people really believed this stuff could happen to anyone. As Susie notes early in the book.
Another justification can come from the setting, unpatroled cornfields can vary in structure but it's quite easy for humans and other animals to be able to sneak around in them unnoticed. In later chapters while it's Clarissa's light and Jack's yelling that give them away, Harvey is very much perfectly hidden.
Died Happily Ever After: When Susie moves out of the in-between and into heaven where she spends most of the time with her grandfather.
Disposing of a Body: Mr. Harvey gets rid of Susie's body by putting it in a safe and dropping it in the local sinkhole The final scene is of Susie's charm bracelet being found in the sinkhole years later by someone with absolutely no idea whose it is, or that it would not only lead the police to Susie's body, but also link her murder to another long-dead teenager who was buried with one of the broken-off charms. He merely comments "The little girl this belonged to is all grown up now," to which Susie responds, "Not quite."
Earn Your Happy Ending: A level of it appears as the book's concept of Heaven. Susie has to accept her death and move on to get into bigger Heaven, even though apparently that doesn't mean completely giving up on watching the living. But until the dead do that, they are just going to stay in the little bubble of simple desires.
She also has a vision of the dead victims and animals following Mr. Harvey's car.
Jacob Marley Apparel: Semi-averted in that Susie can change clothes when she wants, but her default clothes are the ones she wore when she died.
Karmic Death: Literally. After attempting and failing to ensnare another victim in an icy parking lot, Mr. Harvey is struck by a falling icicle and slips on the ice, plunging off a cliff to his death.
Possibly more so Chekhov's Gun in the book. Susie's narration in text form is more than likely coming post her knowing about the death. So her mentioning of the weapon that kills him earlier in the book as her pick for the perfect murder weapon may be more a foreshadow then it is indication she was involved.
Late for School: Susie runs late to school, and has to sneak in through the auditorium. This allows her the chance to spend time with Ray and get a chance to understand Ruth a little better
Making Love in All the Wrong Places: To the book as a whole, sex happens in some strange choices. Susie's rape is in a dug out room under a cornfield (Clarissa and Brian were going to do it just in the cornfield), the first Lindsey/Samuel is under a boat at Summercamp and the second is in a broken down house in the middle of the woods they later buy. Abigail/Len is inside a interstructure room at the mall. Ray/Susie in Ruth's body has the most normal a bed, but it's also Hal's bed that they kinda broke into his shop to get to.
Marriedtothe Job: Len Fenerman has become this as he has problems separating his job from his personal life, as he's also trying to "solve" the mystery of his wife's suicide alongside the missing kids.
Subverted at the end of the novel when she learns to accept her death along with the rest of her family and she moves on to the next tier of heaven that is described as very beautiful, more so than she can describe.
Nostalgia Heaven: It's stated that each person's version of heaven is what they would have found most appealing in life; Susie's (in the book, at least) includes a high school and a duplex (because she wanted one while she was alive).
Not Growing Up Sucks: Since Susie died young, she is envious of things her friends and sister experience as they grow up that she never will, which later motivates her to have sex with Ray when she's in Ruth's body.
Our Souls Are Different : A soul possessing someone psychic is pretty common, the person who's body is being used getting to go up to Heaven in that moment, that's pretty much all Ruth.
Obviously Evil: Possibly justified in the 1970s setting, but for any Genre Savvy viewer, Mr Harvey may as well have "serial killer" written on his forehead.
Parental Abandonment: When Susie's mom leaves her family and goes to the other side of the country for several years.
While Susie is young, it is worth remembering that sometimes she jumps around and comes back to smaller memories outside of the linear narration following her death. This doesn't really present her as a Unreliable Narrator, but is important to remember
Put on a Bus: Many, many characters in the book that you think are major are actually minor and, once their part is served, you don't see them again. Chief Case: Susie's friend, Clarissa. Seems like a main, but is never spoken of again after the incident that put Susie's dad in the hospital.
Sympathy for the Devil: Looking into Mr. Harvey's life, Susie sees him more for what he is - a man still traumatized by Parental Abandonment, who seems unable to repress the urge to rape and murder young girls like her. Even while hating him, she can't help pity him to a certain degree.
There Are No Therapists: Averted. Heaven has Frannie the intake counselor, whose tasks include dispensing kool-aid and urging the girls to accept their deaths and move on. That said, she quite cruelly reminds Susie how easily her murderer lured her into a trap ("Like taking candy from a baby") mere moments after dispensing this advice. So it's not quite clear how effective a therapist she is.
It might also be considered some Reverse Psychology, it becomes implied that the dead have to be done with the living to get to bigger heaven. But even after Susie gets this far her narration still mentions that her and her grandfather can still look at the lives of the living. The heavenly staff here might just say things to get the dead to realize their issues.
In the book, Lindsey mentions that she decided the become a therapist while at college, probably so that she can help people going through what she went through.
Time Skip: An interlude chapter in the novel appropriately titled "Snapshots" illustrates this.
Together in Death: We get two literal pairs. Susie gets quite heartwarming reunitings with her grandfather and dog Holiday within her narration.
Virginity Makes You Stupid: Justified; sounds kind of weird to say The Seventies were a more innocent time, but nowadays even a kid would know not to go in that hole. Hell, to begin with, Mr. Harvey would be setting off red flags all over the place today.
Not that much more innocent. The Alphabet Murders and the Freeway Phantom killings took place just a year or two before Susie's death. These were the subjects of huge national headlines and discussion. Warnings against "perverts" or "sex maniacs" were rife. What everyone at the time might not have caught onto was the fact that often the "pervert" is a neighbor or relative - which we still haven't today, as only a very small percentage of child abductions are committed by actual strangers, but try convincing people of this even now.
From a world view of today the ideas are harder to swallow, but we have forgotten how powerful "Not in my Back Yard" attitudes were back then. Ignorance than and now could still be bliss.
Word Salad Title: Just what are the lovely bones? Susie refers to them as the bonds formed between people that were affected by her death.
The book doesn't really hammer it in more than that, but it is worth noting that plenty of people don't rationalize the idea that the family and friends could have gotten closure from their circumstances, so to expect them to get a one time metaphor of it as the title can be understood from their point of view.
The film Specically Provides examples of:
Adaptation Distillation: The Film, but not surprisingly, as the book is one of the type that is about growing with the cast. Such works often contain many scenes that you can quite easily cut out and not really hurt the big story, except what it does hurt is the audience's growth with the cast. Shakespeare works are sometimes hit with this too. This can also lead to They Changed It, Now It Sucks
In addition on the minor side, the way the safe is disposed doesn't make as much sense without the background from the book.
Adaptational Heroism: Abigail in the book has an affair with the detective, which is left out of the film. She also returns home much earlier in the film than she does in the novel.note She still returns at the end but Buckley is still a child whereas in the novel she is gone for eight years
Clarissa too. In the book she helps Brian beat up Jack and breaks his knee. In the film all she does is scream for Brian to stop.
Adaptational Modesty: In Alice Sebold's original novel, a disturbing rape scene is recounted in great detail. Director Peter Jackson chose to omit this section of the book, feeling that the re-enactment of the ordeal would have not just overwhelmed the film, but been too traumatic a sequence for the young Saoirse Ronan to endure.note Supposedly her parents also insisted the scene be cut if their daughter was to do the film.
Also in the novel Susie has sex with Ray while she's possessing Ruth. In the film it's only a kiss. Other lead up to sex scenes are absent all together.
Supposedly the Ronans would only let their daughter do the role if she didn't have to film that scene.
Age Cut: The scene with Susie's picture of her as a toddler which then cuts to a picture of her at fourteen is an example of this.
Age Lift: Less time passes in the film than does in the book. Eight years pass in the book while only five years pass in the film.
Almost Kiss: In the movie, Ray and Susie are about to kiss at school until a teacher and Ruth interrupt them in the hallway. Subverted in the book.
Ascended Extra: While not a regular extra, Movie Holly becomes a fellow victim of Mr. Harvey
Audience Shift: The book was marketed towards adults, although a lot of teenagers read it anyway. The movie was deliberately made tame enough that the scriptwriters' kids could watch it, and audience testing showed that teenage girls liked it much, much more than adults. So, after a limited release before Christmas 2009 to be eligible for Oscar consideration, the marketing was changed to promote it to teenagers and it was released in the spring. Roger Ebert noticed the shift and thought this and the whole film was creepy in all the wrong ways.
Book Ends: The page quote above is said near the beginning and at the end of the movie.
The Cameo: Peter Jacksonhimself has a very brief appearance the first time Jack goes to get Susie's film developed. Even better, he's making a home movie with a period video camera throughout the duration of his appearance.
Chekhov's Gun: Movie only: Susie mentions the sinkhole at the Conners' farm in the beginning; near the end, Mr. Harvey dumps a safe with her body locked inside into it.
Dead All Along: Played with - the audience knows Susie was murdered from the beginning, and she quickly learns that she was as well, but for a few minutes after fleeing from Mr. Harvey's underground lair, she thinks that she managed to escape alive - she only realizes she's actually dead when she has a vision of Harvey washing her blood off in the bath.
Disposing of a Body: Susie's body is hidden in the safe that gets thrown into the sinkhole at the end. Except, of course, Harvey keeps her there for ages just to relive the pleasure of killing her.
Expository Hairstyle Change: Abigail's longer hair is shoulder length when she returns home, having gotten over Susie's death. Abigail also has no bangs and Jack's hair is shorter in the introduction, to indicate it's a different time.
Face Cam: When Mr. Harvey is chasing Lindsey inside his house. This shot is featured in the trailer.
Foreshadowing: Mr. Harvey's death is foreshadowed by an earlier image of an icicle falling in the In Between, as Holly tells Susie that "everyone dies", suggesting that either Susie herself or some kind of cosmic force is responsible for Harvey's death.
The random, oversized objects (ball, hat, flute/recorder, etc) are linked to Harvey's other victims, revealing the In-Between as a special place just for them.
Susie watching the fridge disappear in the sink hole early on, later her body is being disposed the same way.
There's also special focus on an icicle, which later kills/facilitates Harvey's death.]]
Genre-Busting: The novel really doesn't fall under any particular genre; however, the movie has been labeled a "supernatural thriller".
Genre Savvy: Lindsey shows signs of this when she breaks into Harvey's house to search for evidence. During her search, she opens a cabinet door and then goes upstairs after seemingly forgetting that she left it open. A second later, she runs back to close it. Later, she thinks to search under the floorboards for hidden compartments after they creak when she steps on them while searching his bedroom.
Hell of a Heaven: Susie's in-between is shown as a multitude of happy acid trips, while she is more concerned about her family among the living.
Mean Character, Nice Actor: Stanley Tucci apparently had a lot of trouble in playing the part of Mr Harvey. In an interview, Peter Jackson describes Saoirse Ronan giving Tucci a hug after shooting that scene. You know the one.
Mood Whiplash: Quite a bit in the film, especially with Susan Sarandon as the comic relief.
Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers for the movie marketed the movie as some kind of thriller. It's more of an exploration of Susie's life in heaven and how her family copes with their grief and eventually learns to move on.
Which while a good description of the book, also helps remind us a bunch of the supernatural or thriller inducing parts, aren't really in the movie.
Oh Crap: The movie has a particularly effective moment when Susie says to Mr. Harvey that she needs to go home, and then he responds by telling her to "be polite." The look on her face drives it home in that she now knows just how much trouble she's in.
"...I don't want you to leave."
Oscar Bait: The movie, but it didn't take with critics.
It apparently didn't take with Academy voters, either: the only Oscar that the movie was nominated for was Best Supporting Actor for Stanley Tucci.
And if you watched the Oscars, you would have noticed Stanley Tucci mouthing "Awful" to himself on camera after seeing his nomination clip being aired.