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Film / The Lovely Bones

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Run away, Susie!

The Lovely Bones is the 2009 film adaptation of the novel of the same name, directed by Peter Jackson. It stars Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon.

In 1973, life is kind to Susie Salmon, a sweet and helpful 14-year-old high school freshman who dreams of becoming a photographer. One day though, she runs into her creepy neighbor, George Harvey, who coaxes her into an underground "kid's hideout" he has built. Inside, Susie grows uncomfortable and attempts to leave. Harvey grabs her and the scene fades until she is seen rushing past her alarmed classmate Ruth Connors, seemingly fleeing Harvey's den, only to discover that she's actually in the afterlife...

After seeing the bloody bathroom and her bracelet hanging on the sink faucet, Susie realizes she never escaped the underground den and Harvey murdered her. While watching over her family and the way they deal with grief over her missing body as well as Ruth and her burgeoning love story with the boy she never got to kiss, Susie meets other victims of Harvey in the afterlife, which can morph into a happy paradise as she wishes.

Tropes specific to the movie go here. For the book, see its dedicated page.

The film specifically provides examples of:

  • The '60s: The first two scenes are set in the 60s.
  • '70s Hair: Jack, Brian and Buckley have the typical just under shoulder length hair associated with the decade. Ray has an afro, Clarissa has 'Farrah hair' and Ruth and Abigail have long bangs swept to the side. Elsewhere averted with Susie and Lindsey, whose hairstyles wouldn't look out of place in the 2000s, and Grandma Lynn - who has a Jackie Kennedy-esque flick that's a holdover from the 60s.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Not surprisingly, as the book is one of the type that is about growing with the cast. Less time passes in the film than in the book. For example, Buckley is all grown up by the end of the book but is still a child at the end of the film.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
    • The significance of the icicle comes from a sequence in the book, where Susie describes it as the perfect murder weapon (because it melts away). This is eliminated from the film, but the icicle does still foreshadow how Mr Harvey meets his end.
    • The book also clarifies that Susie doesn't know if Buckley can sense she's in the In-Between or is just making it up.
    • Susie being able to briefly possess Ruth to have a moment with Ray is explained in the book as an exchange; Ruth gets to swap places with Susie and experience the In-Between while Susie is on Earth. We don't get confirmation if she still gets to in the film.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole:
    • Harvey keeping the safe until much later raises some decent questions about the police searching. In the book, he disposes of the safe mere days after having killed Susie. There were multiple times during the sweeps the police could have asked what was in it. He doesn't dispose of it until after the cops are looking for him, making it also a problem that should have helped get him caught.
    • The sinkhole itself is also different. In the book its top layer is still mostly covered (large items start to sink but people are light enough to walk over it) with a hole that items can be sunk into. In the book the family that lives there, the Flanagans, take money for people to sink items down there so that they disappear. This was Harvey's main reason for choosing to ditch her body there. In the film version it is more a wide crater where you have to push things down into but various appliances are clearly still sitting above ground level making it a less suitable dumping ground.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: A general example. Susie doesn't really like the 'in-between' and it only takes the form of the high school she never got to attend. The film depicts it as more of an overt fantasy world where Susie can do whatever she wants - although she quickly realises how empty it is.
  • Adaptational Comic Relief: Grandma Lynn provides a lot of comic relief in the middle of the film when she arrives to help her daughter out - but ends up causing all sorts of household disasters.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: George Harvey is a less intelligent killer than he is in the source. In the book he makes a habit of quickly disposing of bodies. He only kills during certain weather patterns to rob the police of evidence. He also only keeps small mementos of his victims and even then slowly disposes of them. His film version made a scrapbook that alone would be more than enough to convict him. What Lindsey steals in the book is only enough to get him questioned at best. He waits to get rid of Susie's body until only after the cops are out to arrest him.
  • 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 
    • In the book, Clarissa helped Brian beat up Jack in the cornfield - and in fact broke Jack's leg. In the film, she screams at him to stop, and seems worried Jack may have been killed.
  • 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 
    • 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 which help show Susie's Not Growing Up Sucks feelings towards sex are absent all together.
  • Adaptational Timespan Change: 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.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Hal Heckler, Lindsey's boyfriend's older brother is absent from the film.
    • Franny, Heaven's intake counselor is also not in the film.
  • 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.
  • 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 invokedthe 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.
  • Babies Ever After: The ending montage shows Lindsey pregnant.
  • Big "NO!": When Susie realizes what has happened to her.
  • Blackface: Susie and Clarissa take the time to mock the use of blackface in the Laurence Olivier version of Othello.
  • Book Ends: The page quote above is said near the beginning and at the end of the movie.
  • But Not Too Bi: Ruth's Ambiguously Bi moments are left out of the film, with the only clue being an early scene where she gets in trouble for drawing a nude female body in class.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Color Wash:
    • When Susie discovers she's Dead All Along, the street and house are tinted blue to hint that all is not as it seems.
    • Jack pursuing Harvey into the cornfield is given a red hue to highlight both his and Susie's rage.
    • Susie discovering the corpses of Harvey's victims has an eerie green tinge.
    • And of course Susie preparing to go to Heaven with the others is bathed in a warm, welcoming golden glow.
  • Composite Character: Several minor examples.
    • In the book the Flanagans lived by the sink hole. In the movie it is implied it was the Connors who lived by it. In the book the Connors live in the development. The man we see who helps Harvey can be seen as a composite or Mr. Connors and Mr. Flanagan.
    • Holly's narration starts out similar to Wendi Richter's in the book who doesn't appear on the dead role call making it appear Movie Holly is a composite of the two.
    • Mr. O'Dwyer is said to have had a daughter who died of leukemia. In the book Mr. O'Dwyer is a neighbor of Susie who sings old Irish ballads. Mr. Botte is the biology teacher at the middle school and it was his daughter that died of leukemia and Susie tells us is not a suspect.
  • 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.
  • The Dead Have Names:
    • Susie at one point lists all the victims of Mr Harvey and a little about them.
    • Susie herself also gets a moment where she rants about how she's only going to be remembered as his victim, rather than anything she did while she was alive.
    "Who am I now? The dead girl? The lost girl? The missing girl!"
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Samuel Heckler doesn't have any lines and only appears twice in moments that were much more fleshed out in the book.
    • Ruana Singh, Ray's mother, has just a cameo early on in the film.
  • Denser and Wackier: Downplayed. The film inserts a Good-Times Montage, showing Susie doing outrageous things in the In-Between (albeit to show it as shallow escapism). There's also a comic relief montage showing Grandma Lynn causing various household disasters.
  • 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.
  • Domestic Appliance Disaster: When Grandma Lynn takes charge, she both shrinks Buckley's clothes and overflows the washing machine.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Grandma Lynn is always seen with a drink in her hand, implying that she's turning to the bottle to cope with Susie's death.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: While talking to Mr. Harvey, Jack notices the dead flowers in his garden. He thinks back to a time when he and his wife were having a conversation with Mr. Harvey about said flowers, and remembers the way he was staring at Susie while she was riding her bike…
  • 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mr. Harvey's outward demeanor is generally friendly, if a bit odd. We realize quickly that it's at best a Paper-Thin Disguise and he's barely keeping it together.
  • 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.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Mr. Harvey can be glimpsed in the background when Susie is shopping with Grandma Lynn at the mall. This ties in with Susie claiming he had been stalking her for a while.
  • Genre-Busting: The novel really doesn't fall under any particular genre; however, the movie has been labelled a "supernatural thriller".
  • Gratuitous Disco Sequence: During the montage of Susie enjoying the In-Between, there's a sequence of her and Holly doing a Disco dance on a giant record player.
  • Grief-Induced Split: Abigail abandons her family and moves to California in the wake of Susie's murder. In the novel, she is gone for eight years, whereas the time period is shorter in the film.
  • 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.
  • Hypocritical Humour: Clarissa and Susie talk about Othello and list everything wrong with it. When Ray asks her what she thought of it, she immediately says she thought it was amazing.
  • Irony: Ray and Susie's Almost Kiss is interrupted by Ruth coming into the hall, having a fight with her teacher. Ruth is the one who later allows Susie to be able to kiss Ray properly.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Played with in that Susie can change clothes when she wants, but her default clothes are the ones she wore when she died.
  • Large Ham: Susan Sarandon's outrageous grandma.
  • Loose Floorboard Hiding Spot: Lindsay breaks into Mr Harvey's house and finds his sketchbook hidden under a loose floorboard. It has a record of the investigation into Susie's disappearance. (In the book, it's on Mr Harvey's bed.)
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The first scene is toddler Susie trying to reach for a snow globe in her living room.
  • Meaningful Echo: "You are beautiful, Susie Salmon" - first said by Ray when flirting with Susie after class. Repeated when she briefly comes back to Earth to have the first kiss she wanted with him.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Quite a bit in the film, especially with Susan Sarandon as the comic relief. Notably a goofy montage of her trying to take care of the children segues into Abigail sadly going into Susie's room.
    • The movie at one point shows Susie having a Good-Times Montage with Holly in the In Between.
  • 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 Ain't Like It Used to Be: The film paints a more nostalgic look at the 70s than the book did; featuring a colour palette inspired by The Partridge Family, plenty of period music and a sentimental opening. But then Susie's narration points out that it was a time before people truly believed children and teens could go missing, allowing George Harvey to get away with her murder for so long.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In contrast to the book's graphic description of Susie's rape and murder, the film omits any gore or explicitness; letting the audience know what happened through camera work and atmosphere.
  • 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."
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Carolyn Dando's native New Zealand accent slips through when Ruth hands Ray the poem and says "I think this belongs to you."
  • Oscar Bait: The film was given the late December release usually reserved for films trying to get those Oscar nominations. Oddly enough, the film itself does not match any of the typical Oscar Bait attributes - not belonging to one particular genre, having strong supernatural elements and far more stylism and special effects (Oscar Bait tends to favour gritty realism). Perhaps for this reason, the only Oscar nomination the film got was Best Supporting Actor for Stanley Tucci (who did admittedly fulfill the physical transformation and comedy actor going serious traits the Academy favors).
  • Papa Wolf: The moment Jack realizes the truth, he very nearly breaks down Mr. Harvey's door, demanding he tell him what happened to Susie.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The order of some events is changed around to better fit a film's running time. Lindsey breaking into Harvey's house and forcing him to flee town becomes the climax, while Grandma Lynn coming to help the family and Abigail leaving happen much earlier. Jack's attack in the cornfield is now closer to the end, making a more film friendly conclusion to his arc of learning to let go. The assault from Brian is also combined with his heart attack for convenience purposes.
    • Abigail's affair with Len Fenerman is removed (although it was filmed) and she returns home much sooner to make the character more sympathetic; as her own frustrations about giving up her dreams for motherhood might be hard to convey in the limited running time. The film still attempts to give her an arc about how she's dealing with Susie's death, and how she and Jack are being driven apart so that their reunion at the end feels like a happier ending.
    • Susie's graphic rape and murder is toned down out of respect for the fourteen-year-old Saoirse Ronan - who would potentially be traumatised by having to film such a scene. The horror of what Harvey does to Susie is still conveyed through Nothing Is Scarier, and rape is implied by the line about Flora Hernandes ("he had only wanted to touch her").
  • Rape as Drama: Unlike in the book, where Susie's rape is recounted in great detail, it's left open whether or not she was raped before Harvey murdered her. A line about one of the other girls he killed says "he only wanted to touch her", implying that some form of rape was involved.
  • Scenery Porn: The in-between has some very gorgeous scenery.
  • Shout-Out:
    • During the scene with Susie and Grandma Lynn in the bookstore, a 1970s poster advertising The Lord of the Rings book trilogy is on display.
    • The girl Susie meets in the in-between likes to be called Holly. She insists her name is Holly Golightly
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The family dog Holiday dies in the book and joins Susie in the in-between. Grandma Lynn's death is also mentioned in the end epilogue but Susie had yet to meet her in heaven. Both are still alive by the film's end. This appears to be a side effect of compressing the book's 10-11 year time span, suggesting less time has passed in the film.
  • Too Happy to Live: Life is kind to Susie at the beginning... until she runs into Harvey.
  • Vague Age: Both Buckley and Lindsey by the end. The novel covers about eleven years altogether, but the timeline is definitely compressed in the film. Lindsey for example is played by a twenty-year-old actress, who's very obviously aged down in the early parts. Buckley remains a child in the film as well.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Buckley vanishes in the third act of the film, which removes his Calling the Old Man Out when Abigail returns home.

"My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was 14 years old when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. I was here for a moment and then I was gone. I wish you all a long and happy life."