DISCLAIMER: We do not claim to be better writers than anybody who worked on this film. We are simply stating, as fans, our ideas of what may have improved the film, retrospectively.
It was clearly a flop, but why?
The film-making was well done. The cast was phenomenal. The visuals felt inspired. There was even a great concept: After being murdered, a young girl watches over her family, as well as her killer, from purgatory. Great thinking and clear directing.
So what exactly went wrong? Well, upon first viewing, the answer was painfully clear.
Let’s dive in…
What Went Wrong
Ever since the script was green-lit, this film was doomed to fail.
Nothing against the writers, but it was clear they had a compelling story to tell. In fact, they had three. The issue had nothing to do with the caliber of the writing; rather, it was how it was all put together among its overall structure.
The first act sets up the story where our (possible) main character, Susie (Saoirse Ronan), is murdered and is stuck in purgatory. Interesting set-up, but that was where the problems started.
The sequences that follow center so much around the murderer (Stanley Tucci) that you’d be forgiven if you forgot about Susie completely and think he is the main character. Around halfway through the film, the same thing happens with Susie’s father (Mark Wahlberg) as he hunts down the murderer himself.
The film flip-flops between these three story-lines so clumsily that it leaves the movie feeling like an unfocused; yet, well-made mess. However, it does make for a seemingly easy fix.
Pick a Character… Any Character
Pick a character. It doesn’t really matter which one, but choose one and commit. As we pointed out, this film sets up three stories that could’ve been its sole focus:
- Susie Salmon: Having to accept the past while watching over both her grieving family and murderer from purgatory.
- Jack Salmon (Susie’s father): A man who has to come to terms with the murder of his daughter, while desperately searching for her killer.
- George Harvey (the murderer): Hiding from the detectives and police officers after killing a young girl and maybe–just maybe–feeling a bit of remorse.
To keep this article short and sweet, we’re only going to be discussing one of these characters as the focal point: George Harvey.
Not only is Tucci great in the role, but George was close to having a very interesting and compelling story arc. Close.
If we just tweak a couple of things, he can get there. In our version of the film, George Harvey would be the main character.
The film opens with the same events as the theatrical did, but from George’s point-of-view. In the first act, his character would be crystal clear: he feels empty inside, and to fill that void (in his own twisted way), he plots to kill children.
While the audience obviously doesn’t agree with this (hopefully!), George’s actions are somewhat justified, though flawed. It’s easy to predict that George’s desires won’t fulfill him, and will only continue the loop. This leaves the audience expecting some kind of redemption arc.
Now the question is whether he’ll achieve that arc or not.
We’re going to leave the murder scene as is, but after that moment is where our tweaks to his character come into play. When he is home after the murder and trying to relax, he can’t. Something isn’t right. He still feels uneasy, which begins his possible redemption.
The rest of the film’s events can play out pretty much as is, except excluding Susie (nothing against her, but her story doesn’t have much of an impact on George), and focusing mainly on him.
Now, the film is much more interesting. Susie’s father becomes the antagonist, but he is also somebody the audience can empathize, while making George’s struggle for fulfillment all the more difficult.
The ending is the last thing we have to change.
Instead of keeping the oh-so-satisfying death of George the way it is, it must now close out his arc in a more meaningful way.
Does he get a bittersweet redemption or are his flaws too big to escape? Either way, George as a character is no longer there just for the audience to hate, but he provides a dark glare into the mind of a child murderer whose inner humanity begins to leak through.
That is a character who will be talked about and studied for years to come.
A Different Kind of Film
Although a lot darker, and probably diverges well away from the source material, this change makes the film more complex, and gives the writers the freedom to craft a story that we as the audience rarely see, if ever.
However, the film could’ve been just as good and effective with any of the other two characters listed earlier. But that’s not to say that the film we got was as bad as some critics make it out to be. The film was well-made and is definitely worth a watch to form your own opinion.
Let us know what you think of the changes. Do you think they make for a better film, or do you have some changes of your own?