The Lovely Bones: A Heaven without a God

In our Culture section, we're very lucky to have as one of our newest film reviewers John McCarthy, the editor of Cineman Syndicate and the media correspondent for Catholic Digest. He also reviews films for Catholic News Service and Boxoffice Magazine.  He joins our longtime reviewer Richard A. Blake, S.J., as well as Richard Leonard, S.J., Michael V. Tueth, S.J., and John Anderson (who most recently reviewed "Precious" for us), all distinguished film scholars, and a young(er) reviewer, Jake Martin, S.J., a Jesuit scholastic and talented writer.  All of these writers review films for us both online and in the print edition of America.  As we move to biweekly issues over the Christmas season (and a few weeks beyond) we'll be updating our online film reviews--particularly important since moviegoing is a popular Christmas vacation pastime.  

This week John McCarthy reviews "The Lovely Bones."  Coming up in our Culture section online: Michael V. Tueth reviews "Up in the Air," starring George Clooney and Vera Farmiga; and Jake Martin on "Crazy Heart," starring Jeff Bridges. And soon, in print, Richard Blake looks at "The Road."  

For now, here is John McCarthy's provocative review on "The Lovely Bones," a film that, among other things, posits a heaven without a God...


The creation of miniature, self-contained worlds is a major theme in “The Lovely Bones”--from the penguin shown trapped in a “perfect world” snow globe at the outset, to Jack Salmon’s hobby of building ships-in-a-bottle, to serial killer Harvey constructing dollhouses and building spaces in which to catch his victims. In terms of scale, these worlds are dwarfed by Jackson’s abilities as a celluloid architect. Perhaps he got carried away and took his eye off what is most compelling about Sebold’s story. Whether it stemmed from his own God complex or from trying too hard to be faithful to Susie’s spirit (and Sebold’s coyness about religion), the afterlife he offers is ultimately hollow, without a solidly transcendent base.

The hope and solace provided by the movie and book are fleeting at best--secular humanism with special effects. Not addressing the theological elephant in the room, i.e. God, certainly diminishes the spiritual impact of “The Lovely Bones” for the faithful. It brings to mind the advertising campaign launched by atheist organization in cities around the world this holiday season. Intending to hearten non-believers (and maybe annoy theists), one of their billboard slogans reads, “No God?...No Problem!” Positing a godless afterlife amounts to trying to have it both ways; it’s the ultimate hedge.

Faced with unbearable temporal pain and sorrow, you can be agnostic and still enjoy the trappings of salvation. Talk about creating a perfect, imaginary world. And they say believers have bought into a fiction.

Read the rest here.

James Martin, SJ


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8 years 3 months ago
I haven't seen the movie but I have read the book, which I did really like.  It's true, when she died and went to heaven, I kept wondering when God would show up.  But there was a part towards the end of the book where her grandfather tells her that he's going away to another part of heave and that she will do that eventually too.  Maybe it doesn't show a God-less heaven but one that has stages (sort of like purgatory?).
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 3 months ago
When I was, oh about 12 years old, I was somehow terrified with the idea of immortality and eternity.  You mean I'm going to be stuck in "me", forever?!  This charade is going to go on indefinitely?! 
I'm not sure exactly how I worked my way through it, or if, now at the (almost) age of 60,  I have even started.  I have gotten comfortable with certain spiritual "ways" that give me comfort and courage, sometimes invoking the name of God, and sometimes not.  One thing that is becoming more and more clear to me: we simply do not know what happens after death.  None of us.  All we can do is comfort each other here and now, and trust.


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