The Lovely Bones is not based on a true event. We discover this in the novel’s opening lines when Susie Salmon states that she was fourteen years old at the time of her murder.
No, The Lovely Bones is not based on a single true story. However, the murderer, George Harvey, is a composite based on many real-life serial rapists and killers.
The afterlife storyline, in which Susie watches her family from purgatory, is not real. But the original author of the book, Alice Sebold, stated that the story was partially based on a real rape and murder of a young girl in Norristown, Pennsylvania, who was kidnapped from her parents in the 1970s.
While she was writing the story, Sebold said she would put herself in the vantage point of the young girl, looking down on her family from the afterworld. Sebold herself witnessed a similar incident. In 1981, the author was assaulted and raped but made it out alive to tell her story.
The movie was adapted from the novel of the same name by author Alice Sebold. While the novel itself classifies as fiction and has fictional tropes like a deceased girl being the narrator, its roots lie in reality.
Through her story, Alice put herself in the shoes of the Norristown girl described how the girl would feel if she could look down upon her loved ones from above. Alice was no stranger to the experience of rape and the dread that comes with it. A brave and inspiring rape survivor, she seems to have weaved her experiences with the unspeakable crime into the story.
In May 1981, Alice Sebold was at Syracuse University when she was attacked, brutally assaulted, and raped. The brave young woman somehow managed to survive the horrifying ordeal, but her rapist initially escaped.
Sebold defied all odds and decided to keep going to school, where she encountered her rapist again. This time, she was able to identify him, and the perpetrator was brought to justice. According to Sebold, she never intended to write a memoir; however, while writing The Lovely Bones, she felt as if her experiences with rape were clamoring to be released inside of her. She eventually gave in and allowed Susie Salmon, a character in the book, to represent part of her ordeal.
The movie, though, deviates from the book in its nature of storytelling. While the book is a dark and disturbing portrayal of a brutal crime and its aftereffects, the movie has a much “lighter” tone and comes across as a hopeful story of a soul ultimately finding the freedom it craves for. The film also dials down the violence and torment that a reader might face when reading the book.
“I don’t know how anybody can believe there’s a perfect adaptation of a book because the medium is so different,” director Peter Jackson said when confronted with claims that he had strayed from the material. “To me, what’s fascinating about adaptation is that you’re expressing your own reaction to the book through it. You’d get 20 distinct films if you gave the same book to 20 different directors.
He continued, “The definitive version of ‘The Lovely Bones’ is Alice Sebold’s novel. If you want to experience ‘The Lovely Bones’ in the way it was intended, that’s what you do, you read the novel.” Keeping controversies aside, watching the movie is a hauntingly beautiful experience that leaves a lasting effect on the audience. This effect grows more profound when the viewers realize that the tear-jerking story is deep-seated in real life.