Back in 1994, when Peter Jackson was a relatively unknown director, he made the small but brilliant Heavenly Creatures, a tale about an “unhealthy” friendship between two teenage girls in 1950s New Zealand that led to bloody matricide. It remains my favorite film by this extremely talented filmmaker. Fifteen years later, after filming King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson reenters the domain of the smaller film with The Lovely Bones, based on the 2002 novel by Alice Sebold.
It’s about 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), who is murdered one snowy afternoon in December 1973 and immediately goes to heaven, where she gazes down and comments on the various ways her friends, family and murderer deal with her brutal departure from this world. In a curious way, the story echoes the climax of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, in which Emily looks back on life from the graveyard and bemoans what she has lost.