News

Peter Jackson's brave new world: the grief-stricken dreamscape of 'The Lovely Bones'

Colin Covert
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

MINNEAPOLIS — After four flamboyant epics — the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and a remake of "King Kong" — Peter Jackson has moved to a film that's both smaller and bigger.

"The Lovely Bones" brings Alice Sebold's acclaimed novel to the screen on terms that are personal one moment and universal the next. It follows murdered 14-year-old Susie Salmon into the afterlife, where she watches her family struggle with its shock and grief, and observes her killer, who lives undetected in their neighborhood. Scenes grounded in the mundane reality of 1970s suburban Pennsylvania alternate with vibrant, candy-colored dreamscapes in which tall ships in giant glass bottles shatter against rocky shores and day coexists with night.

Even for a director with a rare aptitude for building compelling fantasy worlds, it's a serious challenge. In a phone interview, Jackson discussed the appeal of Sebold's novel, how he creates female characters and his cameo in the movie. (Spoiler alert: Plot details are discussed below.)

Q. This is in one sense an intimate personal story and in another an almost infinite story of life after death. Which of those aspects was most appealing to you, or was it the combination?

A. It was the combination, definitely. We work in an industry that loves to have simple definitions, simple boxes to put projects into. I like the provocative nature of this project. It was a dramatic story told from a perspective I'd never seen before — "the in-between" as Susie calls it. We regarded that as not a place so much as a state of mind. So when she's murdered and her spirit and life force is not connected to Earth anymore through her body, she's in this sort of subconscious state of dream. I thought that was a fascinating perspective to tell a mystery story from, a crime story combined with the more drama-based story of the survivors who were grieving her. So it was the mix of the genres, the fact that it didn't define itself one way or another.

Q. We're used to seeing stories about the death of loved ones as the mainspring for stories about criminal investigations or revenge, but we rarely see the emotional repercussions.

A. No, and it often doesn't focus on the victim, or the afterlife, either (laughs). What I like about it is the mystery that's at the heart of the story is not the usual one. We know who killed her early on. Susie's story is playing itself out as a murder mystery where the victim doesn't even know they're dead. And she slowly gets these clues that come in this weird, dreamlike language of metaphor and she slowly pieces together what's happening.

Q. Susie is not a classic, passive ghost. She flees from her own murder.

A. She "runs away" at the time she's being killed; as soon as her spirit is disconnected and free, she's running, she's racing across the field, racing towards her house to the comfort of her home and protection of her parents. Later, what happened to her body no one knows but the killer, and she has to confront him through entering his subconscious, seeing his other victims and realizing what a monster he really is. That whole side of it I'd never seen before and I thought, "Wow, this is interesting."

Q. She's remarkable in that she's taken from life at a point where she's young, innocent, optimistic about her future and she retains that well-adjusted optimism even after she's killed.

A. That was a very important thing for us, her lack of self-pity made for a really good character. I just don't like films about grief and the somber reality of the world and mourning and angst and tears. Those are not my type of films. So all that sense of optimism and life and humor that Susie has, and the overall degree of comfort the movie gives you, that was very important.

Q. In this film and "Heavenly Creatures," a story about an intense female friendship, you display a remarkable sensitivity for the mind-set of young girls. How much do you rely on input from your co-creators in that regard?

A. They're very important right across the board, not just in writing characters like Susie. We write as a team, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and I. My producer is a woman and I've had a woman first assistant director for 20 years. I like women more than men in a funny kind of way, to where I'd rather work with them as collaborators. They're more refreshing, they're funnier and I find with women, there's no ego involved, none of that blokey kind of macho nonsense.

In terms of writing Susie, it helped that she was an exact contemporary of ours. We were 13, 14 in 1973 when Susie was. That was also good because it was a time when I was engaged in the same sort of pop culture, though I didn't have David Cassidy posters on my wall.

Q. Is that why you pop up for a cameo appearance as a camera bug at the shopping mall?

A. Yeah, by accident. I wasn't planning on doing that. It was a nostalgic trip to walk around this abandoned mall that we'd dressed out as a 1973 mall, and there was a photo shop in there with a bunch of Super-8 cameras put in the window by the props department. I recognized one of the Super-8 cameras as the one I made home movies with when I was 13 years old. Suddenly there was this incredible connection. That seemed a natural moment to have a cameo playing around with this camera.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image