There is plenty of criticism to fling at the article written on The Quietus this week by Josh Saco seemingly in defence of Peter Jackson, currently drowining under a flood of criticism for his The Lovely Bones adaptation. Just for the purpose of keeping this simple, I’ll concentrate on the assertions made about the film itself and its place in Jackson’s body of work.
“In The Lovely Bones he plays out his darkest, most macabre, and most mature film to date, exploring the afterlife and life in ways he never has before.”
I would agree that Jackson definitely explores the afterlife in ways he, indeed no one, has done before. Jackson’s CGI-rendered afterlife, or ‘In-Between’, involves shifting landscapes of mountains, perfect green grass and glistening bodies of water. The CGI (and I realise how much I have marked myself out as a luddite-misanthrope as regards this technology) is unbelievably poor for the man behind the creation of Golem. There are moments in which it resembles a PS1-era edition of Final Fantasy, while the man appears pathologically intent on using effects work even when simply having a camera move through a window. Not a spectacular, otherworldly window, just a basic window which could have been built without even one computer in the room.
In addition to this, what is rendered is violently on-the-nose. You have a lighthouse constantly turning up in the background (for her to light the way for her father in his boneheaded search for answers – are we to believe that no one suspects Stanley Tucci’s fully-3D rendering of Stock Paedophile Mark 1??). You have the shifting landscapes to communicate that her business is not yet finished. His afterlife is one in which metaphor loses all sophistication and nothing feels even approaching real. Question too why a fourteen-year-old girl in the 1970s would have a dream completely in CGI…
“He slips in classic Jackson moments, letting you know that he is still there – subtly referencing his own films, yet dealing with the murder and rape of a 14-year-old girl with the due respect and gravity it deserves.”
I don’t know exactly what these “classic Jackson moments” are, but I saw absolutely nothing of his best work in this film, outside of an obsession with exploring the world he created rather than the one already here. Jackson, as I’m sure Saco would concede, is not a social-realist of any tone. He seems to really struggle to communicate the relationships between the characters in this film. There are tiny hints here and there within the family: there is a slight sense of teenage rebellion in Suzie, a fleeting nod of Rachel Weisz’s mother becoming slightly jealous of her child as she becomes a woman, which would explain some of the close relationship she has with her Joan Collins-clone grandmother (played with literally a dislike of subtlety by Susan Sarandon). But nothing hinted at in these moments is followed through with even minor conviction. The writing lets those characters slip away in favour of the in-between and a second-half shift into psycho-thriller-chase territory.
When Suzie is killed, in perhaps the most breathtaking display of irresponsibility you will ever see on screen – did no one every say to Suzie not to go into underground lairs with sweaty, jittery paedophiles? Especially those lairs located in a cornfield out of the eyesight of all around – there appears to be little communicated by Jackson as to how anyone really feels. To suggest, as Saco goes on to do, that Jackson creates “a manageable story of grief and overcoming it” seems utterly without credibility. If it is manageable as a story of grief, it’s because any recognisable or palpable feelings of grief are absent. Weisz’s mother and Wahlberg’s father are growing apart due to their different methods of coping. They don’t sleep together for a bit and then she decides to leave, to go and work in an orchard for a little while. She returns at the end of the film, still without having said anything about why she left, where she went etc. to her family. There is absolutely nothing in this film to communicate that anyone is suffering from grief. The ‘grief’ that Wahlberg’s father is experiencing appears to be in place only to drive forward the plot and his obsession with finding Suzie’s killer. His revelation at the end of who the killer is, is rendered with a flashback. We are supposed to believe, at this point, that Wahlberg’s father, who has spent years now chasing down leads and suggesting suspects to the inept police, has only just come across this memory in his searching. Years of obsession later and only now does he consider that it could be the odd bloke down the street who lives alone and builds dollhouses completely independently.
Just one more note to take on:
“Whether his attempt is successful or not may depend largely on how you approach film adaptations of books. As a standalone film it proves suspenseful, beautiful, sad and uplifting in equal measure.”
The second sentence is opinion and I wouldn’t begrudge this to the author, but that first sentence. The success of this film has nothing to do with your own take on adaptations of books, it has to do with Jackson’s. Rather than attempting to make a film about grief, about how people cope with grief and the loss of a child and the way that family dynamics have to shift to deal with this, Jackson read a story which would allow him to create another mythical, magical world. He read something which allowed him to build in a suspenseful set of chase scenes into cornfields and through creepy, creaky houses. He so resolutely fails to capture the emotion of the story and manages to take the tale of a young girl raped and murdered and turns it into a devastatingly unemotional experience. His film is cold, misguided and offensive, the latter for treating the rape and murder of a child as an opportunity to create a dreamworld rather than consider what effect this could have in the real world. Far from dealing with the big subjects of the film, Jackson dodges these in favour of visual artistry so hollow as to render it entirely meaningless.
NOTE: We’ll be talking about The Lovely Bones on The Movie Overdose Episode 54. Tune in for more arguments to the contrary to anyone claiming this film has anything redeeming throughout its shockingly awful duration. Also, though I obviously disagree with his assertions on The Lovely Bones, Saco does run the Cigarette Burns cult cinema night at the Mucky Pup pub in Islington.