January 18, 2010

The Lovely Bones

NOTE: As long as you've seen the previews for this movie, this post contains no spoilers.

Movie #2 this year: The Lovely Bones. (Movie #1 was An Education. I'm going to try and write mini-review/reaction posts to the movies I see this year, but I probably won't write one for An Education. I really liked it. If I take too long to get my thoughts down about a movie, that's about all I can articulate.)

Anyway. Just got back from seeing this, and I was really unsure about what I thought about the whole thing. When I'm like that after seeing a movie, I like to go to rottentomatoes.com and read what other people thought about it. I was surprised, this movie has a pretty low overall rating: 37%. There's no doubt this film was beautifully made, and the acting was fantastic. This wasn't like Avatar (grossly overrated at 82%), I wasn't rolling my eyes and compulsively checking the time or anything. I was invested for the entire film. But I can't say I enjoyed it. Never before have I longed so intently to be able to fast forward like I did during this movie. I even turned to my sister during a particularly horrifying sequence and said, "I don't like this. This needs to end faster." One of the reviews I read better explains my reaction:

The same opening that's compelling on the page - "I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973" - becomes the focus of dread for a movie audience, because we know, sooner or later, that we're going to be forced to sit through something we don't want to see. Even if director Peter Jackson ultimately chooses not to render the murder in graphic terms, actually seeing a young girl being tricked by a predator and gradually becoming terrified feels more than disturbing. It feels profane.

To be specific, it feels almost as if, by watching, we're violating her, too - not Susie Salmon, the central character, and not Saoirse Ronan, the brilliantly talented young actress who plays her - but all the real-life Susies. Even when presented with sensitivity, respect and taste, there's just something unsettling about public entertainment that's made from this particular variety of private suffering.

What is there to be gained from this, that we should feel worse? Or come to some false sense of understanding that makes us feel better about something we shouldn't feel better about?

For what it puts the audience through -- watching the scene where she is murdered -- I don't think the rest of the movie redeems itself. It isn't graphic in terms of gore and violence, but I felt like I just witnessed real evil. I can handle emotional movies, movies that explore the dark side of the human experience, but that emotional experience must have some element of truth.

I have this personal philosophy which partially involves what I call the stained-glass idea. When I was in England on study abroad, my class went to the Winchester Cathedral. In that cathedral, there is a stained glass window that was once shattered by Cromwell's armies. The parishioners of the cathedral gathered up the broken shards of glass and tried to rebuild the window. There are some parts where you can almost make out what the window might have looked like before, but most of it is a jumbled collage. I think there is an absolute Truth, but that it's like that window. It's shattered, and everyone has a few of the pieces. I don't think we have the ability to really see what pure Truth is, in this life. The best we can do is try to understand the pieces we have and to try and share them with others, to find out how our pieces of "truth" match together. And in the way they come together, try to see more truth. I think we do this best by sharing our stories through literature, music, film, and other forms of art. In order to get a better idea of the full window, I need to try to understand other people's pieces of truth. Other people's stories can be horrifying, but if I feel like I've seen a shred of real truth in them, that they are worth hearing.

I am having a difficult time seeing any truth in this movie, enough to justify the horror. I haven't read the book. I've heard it's really good. Many of the reviews claim that it's overall tone was much better than the movie. I may read it, but I'm going to have to get over the experience of seeing the movie first. If you loved the book and really want to see the movie, I recommend that you wait until you can rent it. Believe me, you'll be very grateful for that fast forward button.


Jilly said...

Wow, well said. Makes my shallow comment of, "I liked it, it was really pretty" seem horrifying, though. Of course, I meant the dream scenery. The story wasn't pretty. And after reading your post, I am having a hard time figuring out what the truth in that movie was myself. She says it in the end, about the bones that grew up around her death. But I'd have to listen to that voice-over again because I don't remember it being fulfilling.

Mike and Emily said...

I love your idea of the stained glass window. I heard an interview with Stan Tucci on Fresh Air. You might check it out. It was interesting....

I'm NOT a VOLCANO! said...

You know, I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but I want to do both. Now I'm not sure.

I don't really have a problem with violence as it pertains to machinery- as in Terminator, or Transformers, or Goodguy vs. Bad guy, as in Batman or Taken. But I can not STAND the thought of people (like REAL people) hurting people. And I most certainly cannot handle the thought of ADULTS hurting CHILDREN.

It's a great review, and I like your idea about the stained glass window.

For now, I'm going to hold off on the movie AND the book. We'll see.

Deja said...

Stained glass window theory=brilliance. Best articulation of that idea--which I've tried to articulate myself billions of times.