The Four Movies That Have Made Me Ugly Cry, Part 4: The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones, aka the saddest movie of all time, is last on this list, and much further spaced apart than the other three, because I didn’t want to watch it again. I put off watching this movie for a whole month because it’s just so sad.

Before we go any further, here is your OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING.

In case you haven’t seen it/don’t know what it’s about, The Lovely Bones is a Peter Jackson-directed film from 2009. It’s about a teenage girl that gets murdered by her next door neighbor, and watches her family grieve as a ghost.

The first time I watched The Lovely Bones, I was fourteen. This was the same age as the main character, Susie Salmon. I think this had a lot to do with how sad I found the movie. It just really hit different because I could relate to her in so many ways, even if she was a teen in the early seventies and I was a teen in the mid 2000s.

Like: That feeling of having a crush on a super cute senior guy that you think is too cool for you. And damn did that movie cast a really, really cute senior guy for Susie to like. My fourteen-year-old heart, and even my twenty-two-year-old heart, burst with joy for Susie when Ray walked up, asked her about Shakespeare, and told her she’s beautiful. He even asked her on a date, more or less. I was so happy for her!

And then she immediately died right after.

Like, WHAT?!

I would say it was unexpected, but Susie’s narration over the beginning says that she was murdered, so it’s not like it was a shock. It wasn’t surprising. It was still intensely sad.

Mr. Harvey, the neighbor that murdered her, knew exactly all the right things to say to lure Susie into his trap. He used just the right words of manipulation to goad her into walking straight into her grave. And it’s because he banked on her innocence, her naivety. The trap was set up specifically in a way that involved him tricking her, because he knew she’d fall for it, because she was a sweet, unsuspecting child.

Did Susie’s innocence get her killed? No. A cruel, evil man killed her, not her naivety. But those two things made it all the easier for him to murder her.

It was so messed up that the movie led us to believe for a moment that she got away. When she made it out and took off running, I was ecstatic. She didn’t get murdered after all! But that wasn’t what really happened. Her body was back in the cellar with her murderer, and she was dead. She just didn’t know it yet.

Watching Susie watch her family fall apart after losing her was sad enough as it is, but to see her constantly checking in on Ray, the boy she liked, was the sad little cherry on top of the world’s saddest sundae.

To see her mom leave, or her dad become obsessive about finding the person responsible, or seeing her sister become detached, all these things are just… tragic. Just like her death. The only good moments are when Susie occasionally interacts with the living world and gives her family signs that she’s there. Like the candle flame in the window, or kissing her brother on the cheek. Just these little things she did to let her family know she was around.

There are so many moments in this movie when you could practically scream at the screen. So many moments where you’re just tense, hoping so much that they’ll figure it out. Not to mention all the opportunities when Mr. Harvey could’ve been caught, like when the detective was in his house and if he had just looked down he would’ve seen Susie’s charm bracelet. It’s just a really frustrating movie. You want the villain to be caught so badly, and it’s so obvious to you, the viewer, that you just wish the family could know it was their neighbor all along.

This story is fictional. It has made-up characters, a fantastical after-life, and Susie is a ghost. Obviously, not real. And yet, so jarringly real at the same time. It is about something that really happens. Half a million children are reported missing in the US every year. Kids really do go missing, and not just the runaways, the ones that are taken.

That’s one of the frustrating things about the movie: the detective asks the parents if Susie has ever run away before, or if there are problems at home that would cause her to run away. But she didn’t run away, and the parents insist she would never do that. Assuming a kid ran away seems pretty shitty, because saying they ran away due to problems at home assigns a lot of blame onto the parents, which in Susie’s case is extra sad because she seems to have really nice parents and a loving family. I’m sure the parents felt bad enough to begin with, they don’t need to think that it’s their fault Susie didn’t come home.

When I was fourteen, I didn’t cry, or even tear up, until the credits hit the screen. And then I burst into tears. I was sobbing even though it had just ended. It was like the entire movie hit me at once. All these emotions had been building inside me, my emotions were wound like a wind-up toy, and then all my tears were released when it ended. It was wild.

This was the first Peter Jackson movie I ever watched, and from what I’ve seen, critics didn’t really like it. It didn’t get reviewed particularly well. Certainly, there are better Peter Jackson movies, right? So why did I think The Lovely Bones was so good?

Well, I think part of it had to do with being able to relate to the main character, and part of it had to do with my age. If I hadn’t seen it when I was fourteen, I don’t think it would’ve had as profound an effect as it did. If I didn’t adore the love interest so much, and think he and Susie are just the cutest ever, it probably wouldn’t have been as tragic to me that she doesn’t get to be with him.

The poem that Ray gives to Susie stuck with me for a long time after watching The Lovely Bones for the first time.

If I had but an hour of love,

If that be all that’s given me.

An hour of love upon this Earth,

I would give my love to thee.

As someone who loves poetry and at fourteen wanted nothing more than a cute guy to give me a poem and confess his love for me, this shit made my heart melt. It’s such a beautiful poem. I’m so glad Susie got to say goodbye to Ray at the end. Though, I do wish she had mentioned that her killer was right outside and currently throwing her body into a sinkhole, but it is what it is.

Watching Mr. Harvey die a horrific death was so satisfying. I would’ve liked if the cops had caught him instead of him dying randomly; I feel like Susie’s family could’ve been more at peace knowing that her killer was caught and wouldn’t harm anyone ever again, instead of believing that he’s still out there somewhere doing the same thing to other girls. Still, great death scene.

The Lovely Bones was sad, and tragic, and just goes to show that bad things happen to good people, which is a sad, sad truth of life.

If you’ve seen it, what did you think? If you’ve read it, how was the book different from the movie? Let me know in the comments!

And have a great day!

-AMS

 

22 Comments on “The Four Movies That Have Made Me Ugly Cry, Part 4: The Lovely Bones”

  1. Stanley Tucci’s George Harvey was the most chilling killer I’d ever seen portrayed, chiefly because of the casual, callous, everyday-evil nature of the character. It was such a natural and convincing performance, while being very much against type for one of my favourite actors.

    But Stanley lost his #1 chilling & most callous killer rating when I saw a certain scene in Drive. Not to spoil anything, I’ll just tell you it’s not one of the fight scenes, it involves another much-loved comic and/or good guy actor playing brilliantly against type, and for trivia fans, it answers the cryptic question, “Where did Einstein kill Heisenberg?”

  2. Haven’t read the book but I think it’s a great movie. That moment of her running… The ending reminded me a little of the end of The Pledge — another movie worth watching, with another good news/bad news ending.

  3. The Lovely Bones? That’s the Alice Sebold book, isn’t it? Huh. I’ve read that book, but I don’t think I ever realized it was a movie. It was a sad book, in many ways, but I suspect it would be considerably sadder as a movie. I’ll have to check it out.

  4. I’m pretty sure you’ve probably seen some other Peter Jackson’s films before Lovely Bones. He’s the director of all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. I can’t imagine that you all hadn’t at least seen the LOTR films before Lovely Bones.

    An early film of his, Heavenly Creatures, is sort of anti-Lovely Bones in a way — it’s based on the true story of 2 adolescent girls in 1950s New Zealand, who developed an intense friendship and end up doing some horrible things. It received quite a bit of critical acclaim and was his big breakthrough film. I remember seeing it at our local arthouse cinema when it came out and being really impressed about how the film caught how intense adolescent friendships could be. It was what made the film so believable — that the two girls were so caught up in their desires and imaginary worlds that they didn’t realize how twisted their responses were becoming to any obstacles that might stand in their way.

  5. timeliebe – Central NY – Dreaded Spouse-Creature to bestselling fantasy author Tamora Pierce (SONG OF THE LIONESS, THE CIRCLE OPENS, BEKA COOPER: A TORTALL LEGEND series), a co-author of TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE, Co-author with Tamora Pierce of Marvel's WHITE TIGER: A HERO'S OBSESSION for Marvel Comics. Contributing Editor for VIDEO Magazine during the 1990s, Columnist for C/Net 1999 - 2002.
    timeliebe

    Stanley Tucci got an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for this, and he and Saoirse Ronan were pretty much universally praised for their performances — but yeah, this got a lot of critical flack. I think the mood shifts between the horrifying reality of George Harvey’s murder of Susie and the “candy-coated fantasy” of Susie’s ghost watching her family cope with grief and heal, and Harvey’s divinely(?)-instigated comeuppance, were too jarring for a lot of people, especially critics.

    Film critics see a lot of movies in a career — the late, great Pauline Kael (there’s a documentary of her life and career at https://www.amazon.com/What-She-Said-Pauline-Kael/dp/B08BLT95T7 ) put together a movie guide called 5001 NIGHTS AT THE MOVIES, and it doesn’t even cover all the films she’d seen professionally! Over time critics become…aware of ways that directors use to achieve emotions in their audiences — and most become wary of them, if not outright contemptuous about feeling “used” by a director. As a film professor of mine liked to say, “Films are inherently manipulative — if someone calls a film ‘manipulative’, they mean to them it’s obviously and badly so.”

    You responded as Peter Jackson hoped you would, which is why he made THE LOVELY BONES. That’s the best thing a creator can hear….

  6. Kathryn:

    In fact, Athena had not seen the LoTR films before 2020. She was a toddler when they originally came out. We don’t make her watch films she has no interest in, and she had no interest in watching them before last year, when she watched them because a friend begged her to. She’s not seen any of this other films at this point. So, yes, The Lovely Bones was the first Jackson film she had seen. Moral: Believe people when they tell you which films they’ve seen, and which they have not.

  7. Great movie. I read the book a few months after the movie came out, so I rented the DVD. Great book, great movie. A rare thing (good books seldom make good movies, and vice versa).

  8. Athena – you are such a fantastic young writer and I look forward to the first book that you will write!!! On an aside – I feel that Kathryn expressed genuine surprise that you haven’t seen other Peter Jackson films as he is such a fantastic film maker but seeing your Father get all aggressive was quite funny! Not the best way to engage with fans and well wishers that too when you solicit comments and feedback.

  9. I Appreciate this series as warnings. Too many real life sad stories, must husband my emotional resources and avoid the cinematic sad ones. Lovely Bones had been on my list, but I shall pass on by. Thank you!
    Liz

  10. My takeaway is along the lines of timeliebe’s, above. Superb performances by the leads. Mark Wahlberg’s in particular I found unexpectedly moving. Saoirse Ronan continues to bring integrity to everything she does.

    The bright cheery visual palette as emotional counterpoint to the heart-wrenching subject matter – well, either it works for the viewer (I found it poignant) or it’s irritating. Maybe I’m not quite as jaded as I thought!

  11. While the movie was beautifully rendered, it broke my heart. I have two daughters, and related far too much with the father. While the villain met justice, the family remained unaware and broken. I just–this is one of those movies I’ll never watch again.

  12. Kathryn:

    Having very recently poorly worded a comment myself (over on Twitter, home of many poorly worded things), I totally understand, and thank you.

  13. I read the book first,which I loved. It’s incredibly poignant and definitely made me cry. it stayed with me for a long time. I haven’t read anything else by Alice Sebold but maybe I should.

    When I first watched the movie, the difference between what was going on with Susie’s family and the bright rainbows and sunshine of the afterworld was jarring, but I soon got past that.
    I very much agree with your review – how well it shows the manifold effects of grief and absence, and how much chance or luck (good and bad) affects outcome. Like your example with the police detective. It feels very real.

  14. Love any movie with Saoirse Ronan! If you want to cry some happy tears watch Brooklyn. A simple yet very satisfying movie that got missed in the theaters. I believe she was also nominated for an academy award for Atonement. She seems to make good choices in her movies.

  15. Great Book, Great Movie. I read the book when it came out and saw the movie when it came out. Just as others above, I felt the movie did true justice to the book. I cried during the movie, even having read the book.

    Stanley Tucci is an amazing actor. I found him terrifyingly realistic as the villain. I think that was the first movie I saw with Saoirse Ronan, and she impressed me quite a lot, as did all the other actors.

  16. I read the book a long time ago and didn’t want to see the movie because I figured they’d mess it up. I don’t know if I want to see it because I think I’d have a hard time with giving control to the film for that long (and knowing what’s coming). On the other hand, the people in it sound like they did well.

  17. Okay AS, you really need to do a regular film critic corner. Spot on and I think a lot of us really appreciate the honesty. In my experience, a lot of critiques are snarky bullshit just because they can, like it is some kind of contest to be the biggest asshole. You not only say what you like/dislike but WHY. Thanks!
    Dave

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