Talk about eerie: Peter Jackson talking about The Lovely Bones
on Dec. 6 -- the same date in 1973 that 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is actually murdered in the story. But for the Oscar-winning director of The Lord of the Rings
trilogy and King Kong
, The Lovely Bones
is not about the grisly crime: it's about the preciousness of life and conjuring an ethereal mystery about the hereafter -- or, more specifically, the In-Between world between heaven and earth. Jackson spoke about the challenges of adapting the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold and his worst creative fear.
Q: What were the challenges adapting the book?
Jackson: In my mind, there is no such thing as a perfect adaptation of a book. And the masterwork is the book…and that's how you should experience the story in its purest form. An adaptation of any book is only going to be an impression. So, to include everything, would be five hours long. We responded especially to the emotional themes, the comforting value of the book and things it had to say about the afterlife and aspects of it, which are very personal to anybody. And our adaptation is very much elements of the book restructured.
Q: Why did you choose not to depict the graphic rape and murder?
Jackson: There are moral and practical reasons. The film is about a teenager and her experiences of what happened -- she's murdered and she goes into the afterlife and the experience in-between. We wanted to make a film that teenagers could watch. Fran and I have a daughter who's very [close] to Susie's age. And we wanted Katie to go and to see this film. There are a lot of positive aspects of the film and this is something that I wanted to shield our daughter from. And so it was important for us to not go into an R-rated territory at all.
And also, I never regarded the movie as being about a murder. And yet, if we shot any aspect of that particular sequence in any way, then it would stigmatize the film. Movies are such a powerful medium with music and the effects and acting and performance, the editing and the lighting and the camerawork and…to show a 14-year-old girl being murdered,no matter how briefly, it would completely swing the balance of the movie -- and it would, frankly, make it a film that I wouldn't want to watch. So [with] the movie that we did make, we wanted [it] to be a mystery about what happens when you're in this world of the subconscious, and Susie has to deal with the mystery of what happened to her…but the way we restructured the screenplay is we have her fleeing from the murder, and we really liked the way the story was told at that point when her spirit is leaving her body and she's running across that field, she's running into the street, and she's running home, and Susie doesn't know what's happening to her. She's literally confused and now she finds herself in the In-Between, which is essentially the world of dreams, the subconscious of this confused state, and she has to start to put the pieces together like a mystery.
Q: How did you come up with the look of the In-Between world?
Jackson: It's interesting because I think that people have a mistaken belief in films like this that the script kind of says that Susie goes into this weird In-Between and experiences amazing images then you move on to the next bit of the script and you sort of leave it blank. But you can't really do that because the whole concept of the In-Between being her subconscious and part of her life force that goes into this existence, which is a dream state. You're still telling the story and the developing story of her discovering things about what happened because she fled her own murder while it was happening, so there are questions about where her body is. So we started out by addressing a lot of this in the screenplay and we used the imagery of dream mainly and dream analysis, because the great thing with dream is [that it's] all about metaphors: nothing is ever direct, nothing ever means one thing or another. A house is really a person, so the house that she sees in the middle of the dead cornfield represents Mr. Harvey and she knows that ultimately to confront the man that killed her, she has to re-enter the door of the house, and she enters Harvey's mind and sees his previous victims, which only he has images of in his mind, and so her subconscious is entering his subconscious.
We used things like the flower, the blooming flower; that flower is really Susie and her life force. It's withered and it's dead as far as her father sees this flower, but it blooms in his hand when she's trying to communicate with him and say, 'I'm here dad,' and he imagines that flower blooming. The gazebo was representing unfulfilled love because that first date she was going to have with Ray, he said, 'Meet me in the shopping mall by the gazebo.' So that gazebo represents the date she never had. She sees him off in the distance in the In-Between and she tries to run there and she can't run because the ground turns to water and mush, which is a very common dream image that we all have. We're trying to get to a place and the ground is turning to syrup or glue and we can't make it there.
Q: What has been the most pleasurable part of making this film for you?
Jackson: To be quite honest, in a funny kind of way, we live and work in an industry that demands conformity and demands a certain level of, if you're successful at something, then all people want you to do is repeat it and do the same thing over and over again. And to me, that's the thing I'm horrified about. I don't like the idea of repeating myself and being trapped in a particular rut. I'm interested in a lot of different things and don't have a particular style or genre that I see myself wanting to stay in. I want to try exploring different ideas and different types of subject matter. So the most visual thing for me was the fact that the movie doesn't remind me of any other movie I've ever seen. Literally, the combination -- and I'm not just talking visually, it's everything -- the structure of the film, the subject matter, the style of the directing, the performances, the script, the visuals -- the whole combination -- doesn't remind me of another movie. And that's what I'm most pleased about. If it's a little bit original, then I'm happy. We're living in a moment when originality is a dirty word.
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