the lovely bones – movie review

The-Lovely-Bones-posterI’ve been really looking forward to seeing The Lovely Bones, which is a movie adaptation of Alice Sebold’s book of the same title, and deals with the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl and the aftermath of her family’s trauma. In the story, Susie Salmon ends up in “the in-between”, not-quite-in-heaven, not-quite-on-earth, torn between wanting her family to seek vengeance on her behalf and wanting to help them heal. I know, given the topic, many would shy away from something so heavy. But it’s an important story because it comes from something very real and something very true.

Those who haven’t read the Sebold’s book should know it is a powerful testimonial to not only horror and trauma, but also to hope, love and healing. I came to it after reading Sebold’s memoir, Lucky, in which she recounts her own rape and its aftermath. They are heavy subjects, and any critiques I’ve seen of any of Sebold’s work reflects more the critics discomfort in facing the topic than anything else because Sebold is so bluntly honest about it.

Now, I should say, I go into movies never expecting them to be like the books because film is just inherently a different media. I enjoy the Harry Potter movies, for example, in simply a different way than the books. But I would never say they’re a substitute for the books. So I was fully prepared for the movie to not be like how I envisioned the book.

However, for a movie about such an intense subject, Peter Jackson’s adaptation left me thoroughly bored a lot of the time. The reason was because he spent about half the movie “in the in-between”. I think he got so flipping excited (“Oh-looky-here-we-can-make-HEAVEN! Isn’t it pretty?!”) about the cinematography he spent way too much time playing around with the visual effects of the ethereal world and totally forgot about what was supposed to be happening back down on Earth. And while that world is pretty, almost none of what was important about the book happens in that world. I felt like I was staring at a Lisa Frank folder for about an hour. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Lisa Frank when I was a kid…but I’m no longer eight.

What is really important is what happens to Susie Salmon’s family and friends: the people left behind when she dies. It’s important because it reveals a lot of what Sebold experienced when she was raped and (metaphorically) dies for awhile. There’s the need for revenge, the feeling that her mother betrayed her by not being who she needed her to be, the siblings who lose parts of their own identity, and the frustration that people whose lives have not been touched by that particular kind of trauma don’t know how to behave and respond around the victim. Almost all (not all, but almost) of that has been lost to “pretty land”. And so, I’m disappointed. Jackson’s movie is somehow just part horror and part eye candy, with very little of what happens in between; ironic given how much time he spends in the in-between. (And incidentally, the movie doesn’t even allude at all to what happened to her before her murder. Not that he needed to show it, of course, but an oblique reference would have sufficed. But as it stands, unless you’re familiar with the book, you can pretend half of the horror never happened.)

It is sad because it is the in between parts that are important. In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Alice Sebold once said, “I’d written an article for the New York Times Magazine about rape and had been quoted in a book called Trauma and Recovery, which is an excellent book, and I bought it because I’d been such a miserable failure as a writer in my twenties that it was one of the few places I had appeared in print. And on the subway home with the book I realized that I was quoted in the first half, which was called “Trauma”, instead of the second half, which is called “Recovery”, and that strangely inspired me to read the whole book. By the time I got to the end of the book, I realized that I had post-traumatic stress disorder and went from there.” She goes on to say it was a full ten years after the rape before she was able to face it and deal with the clear memories of it. And so her memoir and this book are her contributions and testimonials to the half that is “Recovery”. Jackson’s portrayal makes recovery seem like candy land, without any of the process that gets you through it. But it’s the process that makes the difference between a “victim” and a “survivor”.

I’m making a big stink about this not because I want Jackson to delve more deeply through some morbid fascination, but because I want the silencer ripped off the barrel of the gun. Though the subject is often taboo, we need to talk openly about trauma, so we can understand it and support those who suffer from it.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”…”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

rabbits, tears, vampires & werewolves

I had a whirlwind of a weekend and it seems there’s so much I want to tell you about it all, but they’re little disparate thoughts that I can’t quite wrap my head around, so we’re going a little stream-of-consciousness today and hopefully some order will emerge from the madness by the end of it.

On Friday, my husband and I went to see this play performed at UCSB:
Rabbit-F09The Rabbit Hole was an amazing production. We were a bit leery before seeing it because we had heard that it wasn’t very good. By intermission, we were sure we had been had. It was funny, it was raw, it was real, and in many ways, very touching. The story was about a husband and wife suffering with the loss of their little boy who had been killed in a tragic accident. The boy had been playing with the dog, when suddenly the dog ran out into the street, the boy chased after the dog and got hit by a car driven by a young high school-age boy. The play deals with the aftermath of their grief: how the husband and wife lose touch with each other, the feelings of guilt of all the things they could have, should have done, the feelings of blame that they try to tamp down because it was an accident and no one is to blame, feelings of jealousy seeing the irresponsible sister get pregnant when the bereaved one was clearly the better (i.e. more deserving) mother, and the struggle of negotiating a way between holding on and letting go. Holding on to their son’s memory and their grief, and letting go of him and moving on with their lives.

Also, the set design was absolutely brilliant. It was set up in an arrangement I understand is called something like “tennis court seating”, where the set is constructed in the middle of the room and there is audience seating on two opposite sides. So as the play went on, I could see the faces of the other audience members reacting to what was happening in the play. Somehow it made the whole thing more intimate as the lines between stage and audience blurred and audience became part of the stage.

What I loved most about this production actually comes from a line of insight written in the program. The playwright explained in his bio that a teacher of his had told him that to write a good play, one must write about something they fear. He said he didn’t understand this immediately, and it was only after his son was born that he finally really got it: his worst fear was the loss of a son. And I love that he didn’t just make a play about being scared to lose a child, what he did was play that fear out. What would happen if one lost a child? What are the consequences and repercussions of that loss? What does that fear really consist of? So his play did not deal so much with the act of losing a child as it did with all the subsidiary feelings and relationship dynamics that occur as a result of that loss.

It makes me see my own work in a new light, and gives me ideas for some direction to take in the future.

On Saturday, we attended another performance that dealt with a particular kind of loss: this time, it was suicide. NECTAR performance company produced a collection of dance, spoken word, video, and music all centered around alchemy: turning lead into gold, taking pain and making it something positive, powerful and uplifting. Proceeds went to benefit families who have been affected by suicide. It ended with a moment of silence, where people collected together and spoke softly the names of people this performance had stirred up for them. It was an intense moment, and tears were shed. I found myself remarking on my weekend being steeped in death: both accidental and intentional. It made for a heady weekend.

I could probably say something weighty here about how we foist off death, doing so many things to stave it off and pretend it doesn’t exist, instead of recognizing it as part of life, or about how sometimes we go through life so unthinkingly, on autopilot, and how we might look and wonder what about our lives is so very different from death. But instead, I’m just ending with an observation that something I was told I wouldn’t like was something I found profoundly moving and important, while something by all means I was supposed to enjoy, I found less satisfying.

Sunday ended with a trip to see New Moon, which really…I have to say was crap. I was entertained, but it was crap. It sort of dragged, but thankfully being only 130 minutes long, did not drag as long as the books did. There were moments when I cried, but only because I have been in a dark place like that before. There were moments when I laughed, but it was mostly due to the cheese, like when Robert Pattinson ran Baywatch-style, through the woods. The part I found most entertaining, honestly, was the audience, who sighed, and swooned and gasped every time some dark, muscled man ripped off his shirt. Ladies, I’m sorry, but y’all need ta get laid. And after spending two hours looking at dark, muscled men, it is a bit of an unpleasant shock to go back to thin, pasty white vampire. Makes the whole Team Edward thing a little difficult. I would say I’d be Team Edward, but given the choice between snuggling up to a warm man versus a cold one…I’d probably chose the furnace. There are some parts of my body that just would not abide a cold one. I’m just sayin’. Shrivel, dry up and wince are words that come to mind. I did read all the books and found them addictive, but mostly because I just HAD to know how it ended. Everything in the middle was just one long drag of puff. I know how it ends, so I’m not clinging to the movies, desperate to find out anything (and really, how she resolves the whole love triangle thing is just weird). So the next two…it’s all about the Netflix. The first movie (which shock of all shocks as I’ve never said this before about any movie-book translation) was better than the book and shall remain my favorite purely for entertainment purposes.

Grand takeaway from all this? Man, I’m pooped.

The Ballad of Jack & Rose


Watching this movie, for me, was something like watching an exquisitely produced and gorgeously rendered slow-motion series of train wrecks. It was so beautiful, and yet so traumatic to watch. The acting, direction, and cinematography were all absolutely superb, and the characters had such great – or at least understandable – intentions and desires, but they went about them all the wrong way. And you, the audience, know the travesty is coming and are powerless to stop it.

My husband and I got two very different readings of the movie. Or perhaps, more accurately, we came away from it with two very different messages. Honestly, what he got from it was probably much closer to the filmmaker’s intent. It’s as the film wanted to say “See? This is how it’s supposed to be! Happiness is freedom from the corruption of others.”

I wanted to shout “No! You’ve got it all wrong!” Because if that is indeed what the movie intended, then I disagree with it’s basic view of human nature and the purpose and effects of human society, and I can draw evidence from it’s own characters and plot to show why I disagree.

I realize at this point I’m not doing a very good job of selling this movie. But if you like independent films, films with multiple possible interpretations, or movies that make you think about where you stand in this world, then this is the movie for you. (Highly recommended for burners, artists, philosophers, and political and literary theorists. Burners especially will relate to the difficulty of moving between an ideal world and the ‘default world’.) I don’t want to spoil any of the movie for anyone, so I won’t say exactly what happens in it. Beyond its premise, I’ll only say what it made me think about.

Daniel Day-Lewis does an outstanding job of portraying an environmentally-conscious father, Jack, who raises his daughter, Rose, on a remote island where they are almost entirely self-sufficient. They live in near total peace and happy harmony until he becomes terminally ill and realizes he must work out some other arrangement to care for his daughter when he passes away. So he tries to introduce other people to their little happy commune and trouble ensues from there. Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Jason Lee, and Beau Bridges also star in this film.

It’s rather difficult to discuss without getting into specifics, but what I thought when I saw the movie was that it shows just how powerful socialization is in shaping us. Our parents and all the people around us have a very important role to play in shaping our beliefs, in how we interact with the world, and what we know to be right and wrong. And what I really thought when I saw it was that what is really important is to have a variety of people around us, to teach us right from wrong as well as how to interact well with others. Perhaps it’s the Buddhist in me speaking, but what I saw was a need for balance: that going too far for one ideal means sacrificing others (and in this movie, it puts you in the awkward position of facing the question: is incest wrong because society says it’s wrong, or is there something inherently wrong with incestuous relationships?). Growing up with only her father, Rose acquired all his ideals, but she also suffered tremendously because of his failings. Because he didn’t know how to communicate, she didn’t either – and her attempts at communication devolved into increasingly hurtful and dangerous actions designed to protect her self interest. I’m not saying she is wrong; only that she didn’t know better. She had only ever been allowed to be with her father, could only know what it was to love him, which led to a sexual mess when it came to any positive feelings towards men.

We may not always like what people different from us do and say, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are indecent people. As different as people may be, we do share commonalities, and more importantly, there is often something we can learn from others. Ideology is important, having a set of values is what defines us as a people and as individuals, but sometimes ideological coherence is not itself ideal. Ideals taken to the extreme can lead to suffering, and ultimately undermine their own purpose.

"Rachel Getting Married"

I was all set to write my own little review of “Rachel Getting Married”, but a quick glance online showed me the critics have already hashed it out well. Everything I had wanted to say is already out there. It’s fabulous. Raw. Real. Emotional. Powerful. Anne Hathaway is brilliant in a way totally unexpected, given her past repertoire. Rosemarie DeWitt plays with unparalleled subtlety and grace the wounded older sister-bride. The cast of characters is multicultural, diverse, touching and spot on. And by not leaving any mention within the film of its multiracial nature, the filmmakers impart an even more powerful statement to the viewer: we are here, all the same, all human, with hopes, loves, needs and desires. As different as we are, we are all family.

And though the critics have already said all this, I still feel compelled to respond to the film because it so moved me. The film delves into the complex hurts and history of an addict and her dysfunctional family, but it also transcends that into something more. While the film traverses a world of pain, in the end, what you feel is hope. And even though the ending feels unresolved, it’s okay. It’s the perfect ending because it is real. In real life, there isn’t always a happy resolution. Sometimes, things do just go on. But what matters is (what I thought to be) the film’s ultimate message: that underneath and above it all, family is stronger than anything. No matter the hurts, no matter the history, family always has the power to forgive in a way no one else can. And family has the power to love, in spite of it all.

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