can best be summed up by its name, lovely. While fans of Alice Sebold’s novel may not like this film adaptation, people unfamiliar to her novel will not notice its shortcomings and instead find themselves immersed in Susie Salmon’s beautiful but tragic world.
Susie Salmon, played perfectly by Saoirse Ronan, is only fourteen years old when she is brutally raped and murdered by a seemingly harmless neighbor, Mr. Harvey, played by Stanley Tucci. The violent scenes in the film are not shown, but implied. Her parents, played by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, are devastated and have a very difficult time coping with her death.
Meanwhile, Susie is stuck in the in-between, a fantastical limbo between this world and the next. She is unable to pass on to Heaven, held back by her desire to be with her family and help her father solve the mystery of her murder. The environment of this world is brought to life by director Peter Jackson and a group of Oscar-winning Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) special-effects artists. It is visually enthralling and arguably one of the best aspects of this movie. It successfully captured the fantasies and fears of Susie in a beautiful way.
Meanwhile, her parents cope with her death in very different ways. Her mother Abigail is in denial and refuses to change or enter Susie’s room. Her father Jack is determined to find her killer and becomes an annoyance for police detective Fenerman, played by Michael Imperioli, by providing him with every clue he can gather and every hunch he can think of. Their different reactions put a strain on their marriage, and Abigail’s mother Grandma Lynn, played by Susan Sarandon, is brought in to look after the children.
Grandma Lynn’s jarring entrance as the booze-addicted, cigarette-smoking, vain grandmother does not mesh at all with the somber tone of the film but does provide some comic relief. Eventually Abigail moves out, leaving behind Jack to continue to try and solve Susie’s murder. He is helped by his other daughter Lindsey, played by Rose McIver, who is just as determined to find out the truth.
Jackson does a good job of conveying the conflicting emotions of sadness and happiness Susie feels as she watches her family grow without her. Her sister Lindsey becomes the valedictorian and gets her first kiss, both things Susie never got the chance to do. Susie’s sadness turns to bitterness and then rage against her killer Mr. Harvey, further pushing her father to solve her murder.
Jackson also does a good job with the scary, suspenseful moments of the film. The scene when Mr. Harvey lures Susie into an underground cave so he can rape and murder her contains many close-ups and distortions that convey the gradually increasing terror Susie must have been feeling.
Likewise, Stanley Tucci does a wonderful job as Mr. Harvey. His facial expressions are creepy and spot-on, especially in the tense moments when his fear of discovery is expressed.
Another tense scene in the film is when Jack begins to suspect it was Mr. Harvey and offers to help him build his stick hut in his backyard. Ironically Mr. Harvey is building this stick hut because he has begun to entertain ideas of killing again, specifically Lindsey.
The exact moment where Jack realizes that it was Mr. Harvey is very chilling and wonderfully done. There’s also the scene where Lindsey sneaks into Mr. Harvey’s home, determined to find evidence of his crime.
In this scene the tension is almost intolerable, especially when he comes home early. Clearly, scary and suspenseful scenes are Jackson’s strong point.
One of the few parts this movie could have done without was the scene where Jack follows Mr. Harvey into a corn maze. Mr. Harvey has taken to watching random lovers sleep together in the maze, who believe that they are unwatched.
Jack is wrongly mistaken to be the pervert and as a result, he is beaten unconscious by the enraged boyfriend.
This random delve into violence towards the protagonist is unnecessary because almost everything seems to be going wrong in his life already and to throw getting almost killed for something he didn’t do just makes it almost cruel.
Another unnecessary part is where Susie momentarily inhabits the body of a former classmate, just so she can get her first kiss from the boy she always loved. While direct from the book, in the film it is extremely unbelievable and doesn’t flow with the rest of the movie where she was never able to interact or be seen by any living people.
Overall, this movie is very well done, even if it doesn’t follow the novel exactly. The cinematography is beautiful, as well as the messages of hope it conveys.
Good will always prevail over evil, and death does not mean the end.