The Sweet Hereafter

Peter Jackson's 'Lovely Bones' imagines a world beyond the grave at a time when we need it the most.

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Somewhere out there exists the in-between, a dreamy world bordering earth and the afterlife where loved ones lost find refuge. It’s a place Peter Jackson wants you to see. And you should.

In his latest movie, Jackson, the director behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy, offers a comforting—and much-needed—escape from today’s oft-times grave reality. The Lovely Bones, a screen adaptation of the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, is a story about life after death. Set in Norristown, Pa., during the early 1970s, the film stars Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon, a teenage girl who is raped and killed by a neighbor. Her violent death takes the viewer on an unexpected journey, a vivid tour through the hereafter with Susie as its stumbling guide.

Refusing to surrender to the white light, Susie manages to linger in heaven’s waiting room, a cloudland realm full of remnants from the life she once knew. There, seasons change with each step taken. A blooming flower in the sky is a substitute for the sun. Massive beach balls litter the landscape, while ships in bottles thrash about the ocean. She is Alice after death and Wonderland is the way to heaven. In her ethereal explorations, Susie tries to come to grips with her newfound existence: “I wasn’t gone. I was alive, in my own perfect world.”

But the world she left behind is crumbling.

Her Shakespeare-loving high school beau does his best to forget her by leaning on the shoulder of a clairvoyant classmate. And Susie's family becomes divided in the wake of her murder. Her parents, Jack and Abigail, played by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, begin to drift apart, each consumed with feelings of guilt about their daughter's death. (Wahlberg is unconvincing as the grief-stricken father, twisting his face into over-the-top distraught contortions that verge on the comical.)

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