"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.
Provides examples of:
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.
Supposedly the Ronans would only let their daughter do the role if she didn't have to film that scene.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Big "NO!": When Susie realizes what has happened to her.
Bittersweet Ending: Naturally, since Susie is dead, and also Mr. Harvey is never caught by the police.
Book Ends: The page quote above is said near the beginning and at the end of the movie.
The Cameo: Peter Jackson himself 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.
Dawson Casting: Rose McIver plays the younger sister of Susie; in reality, McIver is six years older than Saoirse Ronan. Particularly notable is the scene where McIver's character is kissing her boyfriend — she looks about 19 in that scene, but about 13 in all the others.
It should be pointed out that most of Lindsey's scenes are when she is older and has graduated from High School, including the climactic scene. While Susie will always remain 14, Lindsey grows up, gets married and becomes a mother. So casting an older actress is necessary.
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.
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 just might be able to alter the slightest things on Earth, and that she's watching when Harvey is hit by the icicle.
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.
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: 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. In the novel, the disposal is much earlier. 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."
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 is in Heaven, but it seems like a rather dull place, and she's absolutely miserable missing her family and watching them grow up without her. Although this is partly because her character arc is explicitly about learning to let go of her previous life and accepting that she's dead; once she does this, she becomes a lot happier.
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. This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 kiss/have sex with (depending on the book or the movie) Ray when she's in Ruth's body.
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.
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.
Parental Abandonment: When Susie's mom leaves her family and goes to the other side of the country for several years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.