The Lovely Bones: The History of Longing



If there’s anything the characters of this story share, it’s the fact of their longing. In different ways, each yearns for completion, grasping at someone or something that will fill the hole of emptiness that’s exists within.

Susie yearned for the protection and security of a father, a need made more urgent after her banishment to the In-Between. Ray Singh yearned for Susie, devastated by her death and the interruption of their love. Susie’s mother disappeared, in search of the self she lost in a loveless marriage. Susie’s father clung to the memory of his dead daughter, a symbol representing the magnitude of his loss.

And the Murderer. He also yearned, just like everyone else. What made him different was treating his hunger like an imperative, even if it meant destroying the life of a child. Such is the nature of evil: treating the other like an object, only to be disposed of later, like a pile of trash.

LB Payoff 1-Sheet.REV1All of the characters also yearned for Susie. In some way, each stood in the place of the Murderer and his shadow, yearning for her light. (The comparison might not be flattering but it doesn’t make it any less true.)

After Susie’s death, Ray Singh behaved as if his life had come to an end, unable to live without the girl to whom he declared his love. Susie’s father was equally obsessed, desperately clinging to the memory of his daughter. And Susie’s mother, she too would collapse, once she learned of Susie’s death.

Each of them plunged into a cloud of darkness, grasping, as if Susie alone held the power to dissipate their grief.

The question is: if she was so privileged (as their “light”), where did that leave Susie? Who or what could she turn to after her life came to an end?


If they’re honest, each would recognize that their (unmet) desire came before Susie’s death. It’s only through the interruption of death that the Other was elevated to a magical place.

After all, Susie was never that excited about her father’s hobby, although it provided an excuse to spend some time with him. For Susie’s father, the hobby was a way to avoid his crumbling marriage, deflecting his attention somewhere else. Susie’s mother, absent from this picture, would delude herself into believing that everything was okay, going along with the pretense, hiding behind her mask.

This is how shadows are created and sustained, entire areas of (psychic) life relegated to the dark because nobody wants to speak up, confess, or identify a liability. This is also how urges and desires are born, bodily impulses that seek to compensate for a truth that was never allowed to manifest. A substitute for – and protest against – what has remained unsaid.

Ray Singh

When Susie admired him from a distance, Ray was already a solitary figure, withdrawn from the world at large. This admiration would also point to a submerged truth, one that was buried long ago. Something he shared; a lesson he could teach.

The quickness and ease with which he returned her affection, while thrilling, would also signal danger. For why would a boy make a declaration so soon and in terms that were so alarming? While poetic, his love was couched in the language of death, predicting the fact of his demise, as if he were already dead.

If I had but an hour of love, if that be all that’s given to me,
An hour of love upon this earth, I would give my love to thee.

His falling in love with Susie was a sign of what psychologists call projective identification, seeing a lost part of himself in the other. All of us do this, at least to some extent, which is a sign of a (“causal”) hole that needs filling.

For some, the emptiness is overwhelming, a dark and looming absence, which causes them to separate from peers and family. Withdrawn from the world, and afflicted by a flattening of affect – a de-animation – it’s almost as if there was a hidden torment they barely escaped.

This is the face of the walking wounded, the face of psychic death.

Meeting Anima

For Ray, falling in love was a way to defer death, a re-animation of a life already at its end.

This polarity – coming face-to-face with an Other – provides one of the most powerful symbols of completion, for Love is the way we seek to restore our sense of wholeness, whether it’s done consciously or not. The feeling it brings is like the simple joy of riding a bike. And when the projection is at its strongest, it’s nothing short of bliss.

Yet, when love fails to live up to this expectation, that’s when some of us fall apart. It’s less a sign of weakness than coming to terms with a preexisting brokenness, overcome by the feeling that the emptiness will never be filled.

Any two can be substituted in this portrait; the basic pattern will remain the same.

The question is, what happens after the fateful moment when love fails to fulfill its promise? It need not be as dramatic as Susie’s passing. It could just as well be found in a withered marriage or the deadlock of anger found in families where it’s impossible to be happy and everyone latches onto resentment instead.

It could be found in the banality of unrequited love.

In Ruth's Wake

In this story, the turning point came in the wake of the perfect storm, the confluence of forces that changed each character’s life forever.

First, there was the teacher shouting, condemning Ruth for her artistry, blaming her for the way boys were reacting to her portrayal of the female body. All she wanted was to create an image more complete than the model she was provided, drawing upon her imagination. But for the teacher, this crossed the line, violating the unspoken rules that dictated how she should behave.

Then there was Susie and Ray in the midst of their courtship, exploring the nature of their young love. It was awkward and it was thrilling. But neither could ignore the teacher’s outburst, his shouts reverberating through the air. It was almost as if he were yelling at them.

So, even though Susie and Ray made plans to meet, this outburst would change everything, as Ruth stormed out and Susie followed in her wake. They weren’t just walking home. Ruth was about to show Susie something: a neglected memory that she carried on her own. Somehow, the teacher’s anger, the shame attached to the girl’s body, and young love all combined to produce a flashback to an earlier moment also defined by sexuality and shame.

With the return of this suppressed memory, that’s when Susie died, again.

Spiritual Heart

The eight-sided structure where Susie spent much of her time afterwards – the gazebo where she and Ray were supposed to meet – is none other than the spiritual heart. It’s the place from which Susie would survey the attachments and desires that kept her bound to earth.

Fire was Susie’s experience of her father, symbolic of his vitality and fighting force. It’s something she felt she lacked, which is why she once clung to the idea of his protection. And yet, when father let loose on the young couple in the cornfield, Susie could not celebrate his fiery power. Instead, she was frightened by his fury, pleading for him to stop; she also worried he wouldn’t survive the boy defending his girlfriend against such a ferocious attack.

When Susie learned to let go, that’s when the power of Fire was inverted, less about being channeled outward than becoming a digestive force. (There was a lot in her life that needed digesting, which is how her trek into the clouds of darkness finally began.) This relationship to fire – including its eventual inversion – is the gift of the father, his capacity transformed into a spiritual force, one that would lead to her salvation.

If Fire is the element Susie saw in her father – usually detectable in the eyes – this is also the lesson bequeathed to him by his daughter. The painful process of letting go and modifying his energy into something more controlled, able to transform water into air. For him, that process would begin when he allowed himself to collapse in a room filled with broken glass; when he stopped fighting and finally allowed himself to grieve, instead.

Point of Transition

The spiritual heart is the place one inhabits between one life and another, between death and the birth to come. According to ancient tradition, the work accomplished here determines the kind of life that follows, of how one will be reborn.

It’s also the place where the cycle of rebirth can be broken, moving from sun, to moon, to fire and finally to the Tree of Life. This movement explains why Shiva the Destroyer is also known as the Liberator, as he helps to break the bonds of samsara. After all, he made the passage himself, from Rudra (the “howler”) who later became the Lord of Remedies, a healer.

In this place, time stands still, a netherworld filled with ghostly inhabitants that come out, especially at night. An extended stay can be dangerous, for it’s where delusions are born. When surrounded by the swirl of primal forces, it’s difficult not to identify with inflated archetypes of Good (and Evil), for only they fully capture the furious magnitude of what’s being faced.

Recognizing this dangerous tendency, the ancients developed a system of archetypes composed of Gods and Goddesses, Monsters and Demons, that capture this dizzying experience. And embedded within their stories is a description of how to channel the energy of madness into a spiritual practice in service of evolutionary change.

This is why the sadhana is so important, for only then can the dangerous allures be stopped.

A Vacant Home

While the eight-sided structure (the spiritual heart) symbolizes the place where the practice of sadhana begins, the experience often feels quite different. This is why Susie’s gazebo undergoes so many transformations, a reflection of the turbulence she experiences while caught in the In-Between.

But at its core is an absence – often represented as a hole – which screams to be filled. In depicting this, The Lovely Bones presents Susie surrounded by emptiness, unpeopled streets and buildings, suffused with a haze of blue. It signals her utter isolation, frightened and agitated, yet terrifyingly alone.

For most of us, when this feeling emerges, it’s quickly repressed. For others, however, it can’t be so easily dismissed. With each assault on one’s being, the feeling grows larger and more insistent, just like the sinkhole at the edge of town that can swallow just about anything whole.

This is what’s behind yearning and the tendency to grasp: a psychic hole, often unrecognized, but always there. Consumer society provides many ways to feed this hunger and, should this fail to suffice, the urge for completion – the force behind addiction – can find other ways to satisfy its appetite, even if it involves skirting the law.

But when denied an object and mirror – whether illicit or not – that’s how psychosis is born: forced to turn inward, malignantly feeding upon oneself, caught up in ecstatic stories of the fantastic and battles against demons, until all connection with reality is lost.

Meeting at the Gazebo

Despite what Ray believed, Susie’s date to meet him at the gazebo was actually kept. But instead of “Susie,” she came in the guise of Ruth, instead. Overwhelmed by the suddenness of Susie’s passing, he was unable to recognize the switch, especially since he was met by a different voice, a different demeanor, and a different face.

Worst of all, the poem he’d written was returned as if it was unwanted, unworthy of the girl who stole his heart.

For those already struggling with the hole of emptiness, particularly those without a support system in place, this kind of refusal will have devastating effects. Not only will it return them to the absence they were trying to escape, the hole grows bigger and more menacing, while voices speak of the imperative of death.

(Only later would he realize that Susie and Ruth were one and the same. For Susie’s death was burned into Ruth’s memory, hidden from the world until she was able to uncover the meaning it held.)

In the meantime, he was faced with a decision: pretend that none of this ever happened or join Susie-Ruth in their journeying, even if only from a distance, even if only in the guise of a girl.

Meeting Holly

So just as Ruth and Ray established their uneasy relationship at the edge of the sinkhole, Susie found herself joined by an Asian girl : Holly. She interrupted Susie’s reminiscing about the meeting with Ray at the Gazebo, daydreaming, wondering whether Ruth was clear enough, wondering whether Ray was able to understand.

“You’re not supposed to do that,” Holly said, meaning that Susie wasn’t supposed to spend her time thinking back and worrying. There was work to be done. They had to find their way to the Tree of Life.

Disoriented and confused, Susie wasn’t sure where she was or what she was supposed to be doing. She didn’t have an instruction manual and, if there was one, no one had given it to her. And yet, Holly seemed to know. If nothing else, she seemed more familiar with this place. Perhaps that was reason enough to follow.

So, while Ruth and Ray meditated and studied by the edge of the sinkhole, Holly became Susie’s travel companion. Their paths would often cross, especially when Susie returned to the gazebo to look back at her previous life. But once she began the most difficult part – entering the house of her murderer – the journey was hers alone.

Holly Drowned

When she entered the Murderer’s home, when she was ready to face the truth of her death, Susie would first find His other victims. Their bodies were strewn across the landscape, tossed aside like unwanted garbage marking a trail of misery and tears. Among them was Holly’s dead body floating in the water, bloated and inert, perhaps even beginning to stink.

In other words, Susie’s learning about her own death involved recognizing the fate of others killed by the same hand. If she saw the dead too early – as sometimes happens with those who possess the gift of second-sight – she’d have been repulsed or terrified, jeopardizing her journey toward the Tree of Life.

But once Susie accepted the fact of her demise, she’d recognize these bodies as belonging to a sisterhood to which she also belonged. And learning to accept their kinship would be the first step in learning how to accept her Self. For despite all that happened to her, she still found the strength to love and to grow.

Marshaling the courage to look at those bodies prepared Susie to mourn her own passing. In tracing the line connecting their rotting bodies to their Murderer, she’d come to a deeper understanding of how she herself came to die. When that moment arrived, Susie would be ready to witness the Murderer’s ritual: sitting prayerfully in front of a locked Vault, gazing intently, remembering …

It was a different kind of polarity that he worshipped, holding on, relentlessly.
Leaving him forever incomplete.

The Tree of Life

Once the polar logic of the Murderer had been pierced – once she recognized how her death was bound to his sterile yearning – that’s when Susie suddenly found herself standing before the Tree of Life. It’s almost as if she’d crossed a threshold and passed through a veil hiding something that was always there.

For in returning to the house of her Murderer, Susie finally understood the history of yearning, its relation to the elements, and how its focus – on the Other – distracted from the truth of its origin: how, during the course of creation, the force of fire was followed by the introduction of the moon (unconsciousness) which in turn produced its opposite, the sun.

Under the Tree, Susie reunited with Holly, overjoyed that her traveling companion wasn’t actually dead. And as she turned to the horizon, she witnessed other members of her sisterhood emerging from marshy waters just like those where she once drowned. Each of them at different stages of emergence, but all of them working towards the same goal.

This is the other, more uplifting side of the sisterhood, not visible to Susie before. Their deaths were but a prelude to the work of redemption, the work of reclaiming what was hidden but not lost. When viewed from this new perspective, the face of the broken took on a new meaning, as each struggled to come to terms with life’s tragedies by making the steps of human evolution their own.

When Susie Returns

Since they’re different sides of the same person, Susie’s insight would transform Ruth. That’s when she saw the face of Susie’s Murderer, disposing of the Vault in which her dead body was locked. Until then, this had eluded her, a truth he was committed to keep a secret, hidden from the light of day.

But Susie provided another source of verification, confronting the Murderer in her mind and coming to terms with his role in her death. When this was completed, that’s when Susie was ready to return to Ruth’s body, her original and only home.

Until then, Ruth was shrouded in black, as if she were in perpetual mourning. Until this moment, she’d kept Ray at a distance since steeling herself had become her second-nature, producing an artificial second skin.

In other words, Susie’s re-appearance marked the return of emotion since it was no longer too dangerous to allow herself to feel. For once death has been confronted, no longer is it necessary to protect against a broken heart: no longer does it feel like the earth is shattering; no longer does it feel like it’s just too much.

That’s when she calls out to Ray. Not out of weakness or fear, but because her commitment to healing had finally reached fruition. Now, at that singular moment, she was finally ready to feel again, with him.


Note: Since this film is primarily about Susie and Ruth, we learn very little about Ray and his transformation. For those interested in what a film about “his” experience might be like, you might wish to see Eden Log or Dante 01.

Both bear interesting connections to the tale of Persephone. In the first, we witness the protagonist frantically trying to escape the bowels of the earth until, finally, he reaches the Tree of Life. In the second, Persephone takes the form of a research scientist, recruiting subjects to help understand – and reverse – the fires threatening to destroy planet Earth.

~ by mistified on November 10, 2013.

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