Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia
dir. Gabor Csupo

Running is nothing like Narnia, despite the inane advertising campaign.

February 17, 2007 - 35mm/Regal Union Square

The most effective children’s movies and, for that matter, children’s stories are often full of peril. Not peril in a hanging from a helicopter sort of way, but in a fear of discovery sort of way, and there is no time more perilous for a youth than that ledge on the brink of pubescence and independence of thought.

Bridge to Terabithia introduces its young hero, Jesse, as he begins to observe his family with a new pair of eyes. He may have always known his parents and older sisters were hardly perfect, but for some reason, his eyes start to linger a bit longer on his emotionally exhausted parents, as if the camera finally realized it could hold a shot of them for just a little while longer, in the process catching an overwhelming sadness. Jesse’s younger sister provides a nice contrast, as she still blindly and lovingly perceives herself as daddy’s little girl. His father is played by Robert Patrick, enriching a similar role to his horribly written and performed bit in Walk the Line. His fatherly distance and regality is a bit less intense than Kevin Arnold’s father on The Wonder Years, but in the same ballpark. The family’s fiscal and emotional struggles permeate Jesse’s psyche, yielding a very no-nonsense state of melancholy.

These initial scenes coupled with Jesse’s navigation of the treacherous waters of Jr. High School conjure familiar, tucked-away emotions of the daily life and death struggle of pre-pubescence. The atmosphere this creates is not one that should be simply referred to as fear, but more of a necessary, inevitable maturation that is justifiably scary, a loss of innocence and a new fascination with knowledge. It just so happens this knowledge is a double-edge sword.

In an emotionally overwhelming scene of startling beauty Jesse’s music teacher, played with unfettered love by the wonderful Zooey Deschanel, takes him on a field trip to an art museum. Jesse has never been to a museum before, though is a talented young artist. His jaw-dropping reaction to the discovery of these otherworldly paintings is incredibly moving, not just as something to vicariously relive through the eyes of youth, but also for a parent or teacher who has ever observed a child realizing their potential, becoming as blissful as a kid in candy store. Note the simile, because Jesse is no longer a kid, and this movie is about dealing with just that, but also having it be okay to enjoy yourself as a kid would, no matter your age.

The aforementioned museum scene is a result of quite a journey for Jesse, particularly due to an adventurous new neighbor, Leslie. Leslie is quite a fashionable young poetess who is not afraid to get her hands dirty. After a typically Jr. High, and therefore rocky, start to their friendship the couple build an elaborate tree fort in the woods and play fantastic games of make-believe that mirror their day-to-day struggles (some more literal than others). Their relationship and banter is quite believable, reminiscent to those that pepper such terrific movies (and books) as Holes and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Their friendship continues to blossom as the two become best of friends, and again, this friendship is fierce and passionate in an oddly gut-wrenching way as the pre-pubescent peril looms large throughout. Together the pair ponder questions of social structure, parental authority, nature vs. nurture and heaven and hell, and frankly it would be a bit easy to guffaw at some of these things and other genre conventions if it weren’t for the rock in your stomach and impending dread.

Bridge to Terabithia is an optimistic, hopeful tragedy. It is a journey well-worth taking, and I suggest seeing it in a theatre full of young ones, so you’re not idly thinking, can a child understand this? Is this okay for a kid to be watching? It is more than okay, and feel free to add Bridge to Terabithia to a list of the best wonderfully serious children’s movies of the past decade, such as the aforementioned Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Holes, Happy Feet, The Iron Giant, Eight Below and Finding Nemo to name a bunch.


mlucas said...

Note that this comment will include a spoiler.

did you ever read the book? I remember reading it when I was much younger. The little boy dies in a flood correct?

Jeff GP said...

I did read the book though, for the most part, I had forgotten certain plot points. I remembered it was quite sad. No, the little boy does not die in a flood, but something equally tragic occurs.

Joey Devine! said...

The Girl hits her head and drowns in the river. And I remember hating that book so much as a kid. But I also don't remeber reading about fantastical creatures in it.

Jeff GP said...

The marketing campaign is a buncha garbage. Every single "fantastical" creature is in that trailer. Every moment, and all of that is in the kids' imagination.