Lovely Bones, hard choices

My wife and I watched “The Lovely Bones” a few days ago. I’ll admit here to being a philistine: I never read the book. On screen, it was tense and thought-provoking if a little indulgent, but ultimately challenging in a way I was not expecting. Before I say anything more, I’ll give the customary spoiler alert!

Inbetween heaven and earth

For those who have neither read nor seen, the story revolves around Susie, a little girl who is murdered (after being sexually assaulted, but the film lets us off as this is not obvious). She then inhabits a colourful and imaginative “in between” world; not yet proper heaven and still able to connect with some moments on earth. She watches as her family nearly falls apart, her father becomes obsessive about finding her killer and her younger sister grows up and goes through the joys of teenage life she had always looked forward to. Once or twice she intervenes in an ethereal way, guiding her father to the correct conclusion as to her killer’s identity.

As a viewer, you know the killer’s identity from the start – this is not a murder mystery. You are watching a series of close calls and suspicious exchanges, biting your nails as you will her creepy murderer to be brought to justice. However, the ending blows your hopes and expectations out of the window like dandelion seeds, leaving an uncomfortable challenge in their place. Right at the final moment, the last chance for the bad guy to be caught and get what we think he deserves, Susie effectively possesses the body of a girl who has had an other-worldly connection throughout the film. She calls the boy who she used to fancy to her, and… tells him to beat up the killer?

No, she kisses him. She passes up what seems like her last chance for what could be either revenge or justice for a moment of love (according to wikipedia, the book describes more than a kiss…).

How do we respond to that? I’ll happily admit that I found it frustrating and incomplete, but I realise now that my response highlights a flaw in my character I was unaware of until now. How many of us can truly say that we would choose a moment of love over a moment of revenge?

In the fantastic book “The Great Divorce”, CS Lewis describes a man on a bus trip to heaven from hell. When on the fringes of heaven, the protagonist overhears conversations between his fellow bus passengers and the souls sent to pursuade them to stay. One by one, they end up getting back on the bus to return to a grey miserable life, for what sound like all the right reasons. One character can’t accept that someone else who always seemed so good has not arrived in heaven. Someone else has spent their entire life striving for success, and can’t bear to be in a world where he is not revered.

The challenge of “The Lovely Bones” reminded me of this story, because even Christians can and do fall into traps of thinking that because they don’t steal, murder or swear, they’re basically fit for heaven. Apparently, one of my unacknowleged failings and the hard lesson Susie Salmon has to learn is the desire to see vengeance exercised rather than love. You probably haven’t killed anyone in cold blood and don’t live off the proceeds of crime, but what attitudes do you have which are holding you back from living in freedom?