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Peter Jackson on The Lovely Bones

Published December 10, 2009 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of DreamWorks
Fans of Peter Jackson’s recent work might be disappointed that he’s slowing down the pace for an intimate family story. Fans of his early work might rejoice that he’s applying his big budget visual effects to such a tale. The Lovely Bones is the story of a murdered girl watching over her family from the afterlife.

Peter Jacksons' The Lovely Bones


“The only thing as a filmmaker that I am scared of or fear is repetition,” Jackson said. “I have no interest in doing the same thing over and over again, and that’s not to say that I wouldn’t do another fantasy film or I wouldn’t do another splatter film one day or another film with puppets. But it would be different, and certainly it’s great to have a break and it’s great to turn your mind to something different, and The Lovely Bones was a challenge. The Lovely Bones is a wonderful puzzle. It’s a terrific book that affects you emotionally, but the book doesn’t have a structure that immediately makes a film obvious in your mind. The book affects you on an emotional level, not a story level as such, and you delve into it and as a filmmaker you figure out a way in which you can tell the story on film as I said at the very beginning, not necessarily the perfect way, and not the way that other people would do it. You take 20 different filmmakers and give them a book like this and you’ll have 20 completely different films, which is interesting. So the idea of certainly doing something that was a challenging new topic was absolutely of great interest to us.”

The in-between, where Susie Salmon remains after death but before heaven, is a surreal collage of familiar images. “We wanted to base it on Susie’s subconscious and so at the point that she is no longer anchored to earth through her body, she is basically permanently her mind is in the world of dreams. So a lot of the imagery that we used and a lot of the metaphor, everything is a metaphor in a dream world. Everything means something else but it’s not a literal thing, so we used image systems that the audiences is not really supposed to obviously understand all of this, but as script writers we put it into our screenplay and the overall impression that it creates is hopefully gives the audience the idea of what is happening.”


The Lovely Bones Poster The Lovely Bones


One of the recurring images is the house of the man who killed her, sometimes appearing underwater. “People say when you dream about a house, that a house really represents a person, when you sort of analyze dreams, and so Mr. Harvey’s, the house that she imagines, that she sees in that empty field with the lighthouse sticking out of it, that house represents Mr. Harvey, so she’s using the metaphor of the house to represent the killer. She flees from her own murder so she doesn’t know where her body is and the only person that does is Mr. Harvey, and Mr. Harvey himself keeps a souvenir of a charm bracelet. He throws most of the charm bracelet away because of the evidence, but he rips off one charm, which happens to be the house, and that house happens to be Susie, using the same image system. So he’s now keeping control of Susie. It’s her fear of Mr. Harvey that he still has over her that prevents her from leaving this world of the in-between. I mean, she’s trying to get to heaven but she’s stuck, so the concept of her finding out the answers to these questions where her body is, she has to confront the man who killed her, and she does that symbolically by going through the door of that house and in doing so she enters his subconscious.”

Other images represent memories of the living. “We used things like the flower, the blooming flower, that flower is really Susie and her life force, so 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 and 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, so everything that we did in that in-between world, and again this is all working on the basis of subconscious and not supposed to be particularly clear, but it was designed as a way of working within the metaphor and image system of dream because we thought and we liked the idea that in those sequences we were inside Susie’s subconscious and it wasn’t a physical place that we were showing.”

The Lovely Bones opens to theaters on December 11th.

For the trailer, interviews, posters and more movie info, go to The Lovely Bones Movie Page.

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Sources: Image property of DreamWorks
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