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