Book v Film: The Lovely Bones

“Murderers are not monsters, they’re men. And that’s the most frightening thing about them.”

Directed by Peter Jackson, The Lovely Bones is based on the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, and tells the compelling story of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a 14-year-old girl in suburban 1970’s Pennsylvania, who is raped and murdered on her walk home from school. Susie’s body is never found, thus finding herself trapped in the ‘in-between’, haunted by the man who ended her life. Susie must now accept her fate as she sits in her “own perfect world” in heaven, watching her family – her father Jack (Mark Wahlberg), her mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz), and her Grandmother (Susan Sarandon) – fall apart in dealing with their despair.


The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.

The Lovely Bones is a chilling story, but it’s also an uplifting tale of acceptance and redemption. Sebold’s book is classic, and this adaptation has quite drastically split audiences. Personally, whilst I don’t think that the film is a great adaptation, it’s still one of my favourites.

Whilst the book begins with Susie narrating from heaven, the film adaptation spends more time with Susie on Earth, putting more of a focus on her life before it was taken away from her, as she narrates over the top. Because of this, we see much more of Susie’s relationships with her family, as they try to cope with their loss. This family dynamic is strong throughout the whole film, as we feel their love for Susie, but also every pinch of their heart-wrenching pain of her death.

“My name was Salmon, like the fish. First name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

Although the story is based on such an upsetting subject, and the film is still quite painful to watch at times, it misses out many of the important scenes in the book, including Susie’s rape, the murder itself and the dismembering of her body, her funeral, her mother’s affair, and her father’s heart attack. If you haven’t read the book beforehand, then you might agree that the film is quite respectful, yet still hard-hitting in regards to its premise. But, in relation to the book, the amount that the adaptation misses out is almost unforgivable.

That being said, the film does emanate the same emotion that the Sebold creates with her writing and, alongside the amazing visual effects of the film which compliment the scenes of Susie’s heaven described in the book stunningly, it does have a similar effect and many of the less prominent scenes appear on-screen just as I had read them.

You can buy the book here

Peter Jackson took a huge risk with adapting this story and, for that, I’m one of the few who thinks that he should be applauded. Sure, there’s a lot wrong with it and, as an adaptation, it could have been very different. But I think that the film works as it is.

This is largely because of a young Saoirse Ronan, who leads the film incredibly, and the chilling performance from Stanley Tucci. It’s so rare that a film puts you in such an uncomfortable position; we know who the monster is throughout the film, but we are but spectators unable to do anything to help the other characters. And it’s not exactly a happy ending, either, as the last ten minutes are just as distressing as the first.

I absolutely adore Tucci in this, and I will forever be a little terrified of him because of this performance. If it wasn’t for his character, who chills me right to the very bones, maybe the flaws would outweigh the good in this adaptation. But his performance, alongside the beautiful Ronan and the rest of the supporting cast, is why this is a film that I will watch over and over again.

Differences From The Book:

Let’s go into those changes a little more:

  • The book begins as Susie describes her death. It happens in a similar way to the film, but in the book, Susie describes how she is raped, killed, and dismembered.
  • Harvey then dumps her body in the sinkhole straight away. In the film, we don’t see any of Susie’s murder, just her trying to escape, and there is no mention of her being raped or dismembered. Harvey then doesn’t get rid of her body until later on in the film, when he thinks he has become a suspect.
  • The book details Susie’s funeral, whereas the film does not.
  • In the book, Susie’s neighbour’s dog finds her elbow in the cornfield, which is what leads the police to search there. In the film, the police find Susie’s hat, which they later find in the book.
  • Susie and Harvey’s fingerprints are later found on a Coke bottle, in the book.
  • Jack is more obsessed with Harvey from the very beginning in the book, whereas these scenes are left until later on in the film. In the book, the police visit Harvey’s house at Jack’s request but, in the film, they are visiting everybody on the street.
  • Whilst in heaven, in the book, Susie looks into Harvey’s past and sees that he had a bad childhood and that he has tried to stop killing. This is not explored in the film.
  • In the book, Harvey leaves town soon after the murder. He does leave in the film but, again, not until later on.
  • One of Susie’s charms is found by another body in Connecticut in the book.
  • In the book, Susie’s mother has an affair. The detective is often around in the film, but the affair is never discussed. In the film, her mother leaves home because she needs some time to herself.
  • In the book, Susie’s father has a heart attack. He does not in the film.
  • The book is set over years, so we get to see Susie’s family grow and move on more, but the film is only set over a few months.
  • Whilst we see more of Susie with her family before she died in the film, the book details more about the family after she has died. Here, we read more about her father and brother’s growing relationship, and around her sister getting married.
  • In the book, Harvey returns to the sinkhole later on. In the film, he only visits the sinkhole once, towards the end, to get rid of Susie’s body. In the book, Ruth is overcome with the presence of the women Harvey has killed, but she is only taken over by Susie in the film.
  • In the book, Susie has sex with Ray whilst she is in Ruth’s body, but they only kiss in the film.

Overall Verdict:

Whilst this adaptation of The Lovely Bones isn’t for everybody, it’s worth a watch if you’re of fan of the book because, a fan of the film or not, there is no denying the standard of Sebold’s work. It is an outstanding story full of great emotion and will remain one of my favourite books for years to come. Despite the film’s flaws as an adaptation, it also remains one of my favourites.

5 thoughts on “Book v Film: The Lovely Bones

Add yours

  1. Interesting review – thank you Charlie. The opening of the film was very poweful and I thought this is going to be a great film. But I found there was too much time spent in the dead world and it became repetitive and lost its force. However that said the film really affected me and a week later made me fearful in a situation where I would normally not feel scared as I explain here in Goopy:


  2. I prefer the movie the book sounds like it goes too far the movie was tasteful. One the the big problems I have with the book is Susie having sex with Ray while she’s in Ruth’s body I consider that rape.


  3. The book was so cleverly written, it provoked very strong emotion, so I was a bit disappointed that the movie left a lot of the content out that was really quite relevant to the story. The film although still quite powerful didn’t portray the full picture, the sadness, the disconnection, the family chaos as it really happened. I only remember in the book that the rapist killer got away and that’s how it was left, no justice or ending……I only wish that they had stuck to the book, the way the writer had seen it.


    1. I think it’s because I saw the film before I read the book that I really like the film, but if I had read the book first I know I would have felt exactly the same as you!


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