Although he will always be remembered as director of the monumental “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson will also go down in history as the greatest director who never learned how to end a film. From the half dozen different ending sequences that plagued the last hour of “The Return of the King” to the grueling, soppy 187-minute run time of “King Kong,” we’ve come to expect long-windedness from this three-time Oscar winner.
“The Lovely Bones”
at Quality 16 and Showcase
Unlike those other films (which were masterpieces on the whole), Jackson’s latest film, “The Lovely Bones,” suffers from more conventional flaws in addition to its inexplicably abrupt and altogether unsatisfying ending.
Based on the popular novel by Alice Sebold, “The Lovely Bones” is a rather jarring story of serial child rapist/murderer Mr. Harvey (played with disturbing calm by Stanley Tucci, “Julie and Julia”) and his latest victim, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, “Atonement”). The killer does to Susie what he has done to numerous other girls in the past, but Susie doesn’t quite die. Instead, she passes into “the in-between,” whence she can watch over her family and murderer — and narrate the film.
Necessarily, the film tackles many of the heavy themes that pervaded Sebold’s novel, though it seems hesitant to do so. Cut from the plot are the most graphic and disturbing aspects of the story (the rape and the killer’s dismemberment of the body are never even mentioned).
The suffering and conflict of Susie’s parents (Mark Wahlberg, “The Departed” and Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”) are related in a greatly sterilized manner. Even Tucci’s take on Harvey, though certainly masterful in its minimalism, seems censored rather than measured.
Perhaps it was the film’s insistence on broad appeal (a PG-13 rating) that compelled such modifications, but other cuts seem less explicable and rob viewers of a sense of wholeness for the story. As she struggles with whether she should nudge her family to keep pursuing her killer, Sebold’s Susie discovers her killer’s own troubled childhood and develop a begrudging sympathy toward him in the novel. The film forgoes this element, leaving viewers to deal with a grotesque villain who is alarmingly one-dimensional. As great as Tucci’s performance is, his character is simply too easy to hate for a film that means to evoke such moral complexity.
Jackson’s conception of “the in-between,” a magical land that isn’t quite heaven, is beautiful but incomplete. We never learn exactly why Susie is there, what she is supposed to learn or if she ever does learn it. These are without a doubt the most meaningful questions concerning the core of the story, but the film avoids them until its rushed last couple of minutes. When Susie finishes her closing monologue with “I will you all a long and happy life,” viewers are left only to chuckle, having missed out on the emotional and psychological gravity those words ought to evoke coming from a murdered child.
While thoughtfully shot and certainly not a disaster, “The Lovely Bones” is, more than anything else, incomplete. Its attempt to tell an extremely graphic story with marked minimalism does ultimately succeed, but far too much is lost in translation.