Just Like Heaven? Sign Me Up Mr. Jackson!

Entry for Wednesday, 1/19/10

Subject: Inspiration

© Cover Art: Yoori Kim (design); Daniel Lee (photo-illustration)

I read Alice Sebold’s New York Times best-selling novel, The Lovely Bones, shortly after it was published in 2002. It’s hard to believe that was nearly 9 years ago!

The plot itself is pretty simple: a teenage girl named Susie Salmon (the eldest of three) is abducted while taking a shortcut home from school in 1973.  The serial predator – Mr. Harvey – lives across the street in the same Pennsylvania suburb as the Salmons. He rapes and murders her, and then after putting her dismembered body in a safe, tosses it into a sink hole. Susie’s spirit leaves her body and spends the remainder of the book in heaven, where she narrates over the story and attempts to reach out to her family and friends. Despite the tragedy life goes on, and the evolution of each character coming to terms with their new reality is chronicled throughout the remainder of the book.

Here are the specifics: During her brief time on screen, you get to see Susie as a daddy’s girl, a fledgling photographer, and a teenage girl falling in love. Ruth (Susie’s friend) has a sixth sense and is able to see Susie run past her right after she was murdered. Ray (Susie’s crush) befriends Ruth. Jack (Susie’s father) feels it’s his duty to avenge her murder, becomes obsessed with it, conducts his own exhaustive investigation, and suspects Mr. Harvey to be the perpetrator. Abigail (Susie’s mother) can’t handle life, has an affair with the crime detective, and then leaves the family to go work at a California winery (she returns towards the end of the novel). Her maternal grandmother, Lynn, is an alcoholic who moves in afterward to help manage the household. Her younger brother, Buckley, was able to see Susie and said she lived in the “in between.” Mr. Harvey eventually starts targeting Susie’s younger sister Lindsey. What Mr. Harvey doesn’t know is that Lindsey is no fool and helps prove her father’s suspicions by breaking into the killer’s house and finds damning evidence. When confronted by the authorities, Mr. Harvey explains away her findings, they believe him, and he flees town. During this time, Susie meets other victims who fell prey to Mr. Harvey’s sick appetite. Before joining the other victims on their way to a higher level of heaven, Susie enters Ruth’s body and gets the chance to finally kiss Ray. Mr. Harvey ultimately gets what he deserves. (SPOILER ALERT!) While attempting to abduct another woman, he is struck on the head by an icicle and falls down a ravine to his death.

My favorite passage comes at the end of the book on page 363:

“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections — sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent — that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous lifeless body had been my life,” (Sebold).

Sebold’s fictional story really gave me – the reader – a pause for thought. It is possible to transcend a brutal death and find peace – wherever, whenever, whatever that might be. Death is not the end. Moreover, when it comes down to it, all of us are bodies of bones and we can “become whole” with or without them. Just as our bones are connected physically by cartilage, our souls are attached eternally by an energy to those closest to us in our lives. Other themes which stood out were: death is not something to fear and justice is most always served, it’s just a matter of when and how. Finally, what I found most intriguing was the idea that heaven can be whatever you want it to be.

I enjoyed the book and was excited when I heard Peter Jackson had bought the film rights in 2005. Known for directing the visually spectacular Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I wondered how he would interpret Sebold’s story. Critics gave the film mixed reviews following it’s limited release in 2009. Internet Movie Database (a.k.a IMDb) gave it a 6.6 out of 10 and Amazon.com reviewers gave it 4 out of 5 stars. If there’s a movie I want to see, I will go and see it, regardless of what the esteemed critics say. Given that, I ordered it from Netflix and watched the movie on Wednesday, January 19, 2011.

Below is the official trailer and another official trailer including additional footage from the director and the actors:

Overall, I think Peter Jackson fully realized his specific vision of Sebold’s novel.  The film was thought engaging, visually stimulating, and emotionally inspiring. His interpretation of heaven was sublime and successfully captured the dreamworld of a 14-year-old girl. In general, I feel that people are very quick to criticize, when instead, they should consider seeing things through the eyes of the creator/director/writer and accept it for the unique artistic concept that it is. Nothing is going to ever match up perfectly with your mind’s wildest imaginations, but I must say, this is pretty darn close.