“The Lovely Bones”
            The Director of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson, tries his hand at converting this wildly popular book to the screen.  He’s not afraid of fantasy, and there’s a considerable amount of it.  The plot is well-known, and even if you arrive at the theater not knowing what will happen, they tell you anyway:  a 14-year-old girl is murdered by her neighbor.  Knowing what’s going to happen actually builds the suspense, as we strongly identify with the sweet, naïve teenager who simply made the mistake of being too trusting, and it was the last mistake she ever made.  Saorise Ronan is perfectly cast in this role as the willowy, winsome Susie, who narrates throughout.  Yes, it takes her a while to realize she’s actually dead.  She floats in a kind of benign Purgatory, neither heaven nor earth nor hell, presumably because she has unfinished business and can’t move on to wherever spirits go.  When she visits her old haunts, so to speak, some of her family members are especially attuned to her presence, which, in a way, only makes things worse, because it postpones the closure of their grieving process.
            Her kindly father (Mark Wahlberg) just cannot accept that she’s never been found.  He’s obsessed with hunting down her killer, even when the police have assured him that the trail is too cold.  He becomes emotionally unavailable to his wife (Rachel Weisz), who finally just leaves in frustration, leaving him there to raise their other two children with her alcoholic, chain-smoking mother (uncharacteristically overplayed by Susan Sarandon).  Susie, still narrating this story, alternates between dwelling in a kind of Elysian Fields with gazebo, or a rolling plain with a central tree of life (Genesis 3:3?), where birds comprise the leaves, or a deep forest where she encounters another young girl who won’t tell her who she is or where they are.  While the visual effects are spectacular, as a viewer, you’ll be frustrated if you’re the type that demands a linear narrative, marching to an orderly conclusion.  We’re sort of meandering in the netherworld here.  Susie’s still dwelling on the pubescent frustration of not quite reaching the point of kissing her first boyfriend.  We never see the actual murder, we just know it happened, which makes the killer (expertly rendered by Stanley Tucci) appear to be more of a creepy loner than a savage predator.
            It’s a common premise of horror movies that the “undead” are that way because they have unfinished business;  usually that their perpetrators have not been brought to justice.  But this isn’t a slasher flick, and the prurient is merely implied.  There is, in the end, a sort of “instant karma’s going to get you” kind of moral, which is of interest to Christians and others who believe in some sort of ultimate justice in the universe.  Otherwise, there’s a lot that goes unresolved.  Life goes on.  Even for those who existence is now unexpectedly centered elsewhere.
            “The Lovely Bones” is one of those panoramic cinematic experiences that are best enjoyed in a movie theater, hopefully uninterrupted.  Don’t try to solve it or hurry it;  just allow it to set its own pace and assume its own world-view.  You just might be enchanted by “The Lovely Bones.”
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas