Before he made the film M, Fritz Lang thought long and hard about the worst crime imaginable. He came up with the murder of a child, an answer so obvious that you wonder what took him so long. The Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson and based on Alice Sebold’s novel, tips its hat on two occasions to Lang’s film, first with shots of the crime victim’s never-to-be-used place setting at the family dinner table, next when a rolling ball stands in for the murder of another child. As in M, the murders of children happen off screen. What we see in M is a balloon figure trapped in telephone wires, a rolling ball, a place setting, and a mother’s desperate cries for her child. In The Lovely Bones, we see Susie racing away from her killer, and for a moment we believe that she has escaped.
Representing the murder of a child seems to be one of our last cultural taboos. James Whale’s Frankenstein of 1931 is one of the very few film that actually shows a child being murdered, with the monster drowning the child named Maria. That scene was cut from the film and not restored until 1986.
The image above shows George Harvey (played by Stanley Tucci) surrounded by the dollhouses he builds. Tucci gives a magnificent performance in a film that creates gumdrop-colored versions of heaven and offers rainbow promises of redemption in a world so steeped in pathologies that even a serial murderer of children fails to be brought to justice in a meaningful way.
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