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Girl's Ghost Helps Solve Murder in 'The Lovely Bones'

Girl's Ghost Helps Solve Murder in 'The Lovely Bones'

Oscar-winning writer-director Peter Jackson turns to a best-selling novel for his new film: a story of death and loss and hope viewed through the prism of a teenaged girl's memories.

"My name is Salmon, like the fish … first name, Susie. I was 14 years old when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

Susie Salmon seems like a typical teenager on the brink of a life filled with so many experiences like the blush of first love.

But fate has a different plan for her. On the way home from school she takes a short cut through a barley field where she is startled by a neighbor, Mr. Harvey.

It will be her last encounter on this Earth. Caught in some in-between place, Susie's spirit watches as her family copes with their loss and her murderer goes on with his life. The title comes from one of her thoughts during this time: "These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections - sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent - that happened after I was gone."

Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones
Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones

Saoirse Ronan stars as Susie Salmon. The Irish actress, now 16 years old, first gained international acclaim for her performance in the 2007 drama Atonement.

"I have never felt so much responsibility with a character as I have with The Lovely Bones," Ronan says.

She explains that not only is her character seen or heard in just about every scene of the film, but also there was the original novel's worldwide legion of fans to consider.

"More than anything else I was just worried that I wasn't portraying her to her full potential," explains Ronan. "I think it's important for everyone that Susie is the way she should be. Of course, people are going to have different ideas of what she should be like … the readers, really. It was something that was always on my mind."

Stanley Tucci as murderer, George Harvey in scene from The Lovely Bones
Stanley Tucci as murderer, George Harvey in scene from The Lovely Bones

American actor Stanley Tucci co-stars as the murderer: a mundane character almost invisible to his neighbors.

"The more real he is and the more subtle he is then the more terrifying he is," says Tucci. "The more banal he is, the more terrifying he is. There is no doubt and I'll say without question that it was the most difficult thing I've ever done as an actor."

Director Peter Jackson on the set of the movie
Director Peter Jackson on the set of the movie

Peter Jackson directs and is also the co-writer of the film script, which he admits is no substitute for the vastly more detailed novel by Alice Seybold.

"To me, to adapt a book is not a question of producing a carbon copy of the book," he notes. "It is a personal impression that Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and myself - the three of us wrote the screenplay. We read the book; we responded to aspects of the book, especially emotional themes and things it had to say about the afterlife … that aspect of it, which is very personal to anybody. That's what we responded to. So to me, no adaptation can ever be perfect. It is impossible. You don't make a movie for the fans of the book. You just can not do that."

Most of those readers interpret Susie's spirit observing events from an afterlife … a heaven, if you will; but Jackson insists it is not that simple.

"Certainly we did not want to make a film that casts judgment on people's religious beliefs," Jackson says. "That wasn't at all the motivation for making the movie. What we do in the movie is [have] the scene at the end with the golden light there which I shot in a deliberately clichéd, recognizable way that people get the idea heaven is there. That is, indeed, the goal, which Susie has: to get out of this weird, trapped place that she is and to actually move on. That golden light represents where she and everyone else moves on to, so the idea is you can put whatever you choose into that golden light. If you are religious then obviously that is what you put in there. If you are not religious, you can imagine something else. And if you don't believe there is anything there at all then probably it is not the movie you should go see, I guess."

"I wasn't gone. I was alive in my own perfect world, but in my heart I knew it wasn't perfect. My murderer still haunted me."

The Lovely Bones also features Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie's bereaved parents. Rose McIver is her younger sister, who uncovers the truth about Susie's fate; and Susan Sarandon plays their flamboyant grandmother. The film's Earthly locations were shot in the US state of Pennsylvania; director Jackson used his native New Zealand for the ethereal scenes of the world beyond.