Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bridge to Sadness and Despair

Bridge To Terabithia
Director: Gabor Csupo
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Zooey Deschanel
Released: February 16, 2007

We're going straight into spoiler territory right away with this one so if you have never seen the movie which has been out for eleven years or read the book which was published in 1977 (!!!), then you have been warned!!!! 
This would have been a good movie to do a double review with My Girl because they are very similar.  (Yeah, spoiler alerts for that movie too!) The obvious thing they have in common is they're both about a friendship between a boy and a girl, about eleven or twelve years old and at the end of the story one of these friends will die in a horrible accident caused by nature. In that one, it was the boy, and in this one, it's the girl. There are other similarities and I'll point them out, but that is the main one. I actually read this book around the same time I saw My Girl, so yeah, my childhood was pretty traumatizing around that time! I saw My Girl when I was in fifth grade and I read this book either in fourth or fifth grade. I've never revisited it, so I'm not sure how faithful the film is and whether or not it changed anything or added any characters. 

I would say another thing they have in common is that they're both set in the '70s, but actually, I think the film version of Terabithia is set in "present day" 2007. The school they attend looks very antiquated...they're using blackboards, for god's sake. By the late nineties, I definitely remember teachers using white boards with dry erase markers. Also, everything is rundown and shabby; nothing is new and modern, something you would find in a school in 2007. But then we see a scene where a teacher is telling a couple students to put away their "electronic devices" and we see the main character's sisters watching MTV, so that defintely nixes this movie being set in the '70s! The story is set in a rural part of the country where the characters don't have too much money, so I guess that's why everything looks the way it does.

Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) strikes up a friendship with the new girl at school, Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb), but it takes a few days to warm up to her because she beat him (and a bunch of other boys) in a footrace and he's known as being the fastest kid in the class. Jess is the middle child of five kids and has two older sisters and two younger sisters. The only one that's really relevant to the story is his sister May Belle (and I thought her name was Mabel for the longest time) who is the second youngest child. This is mainly because she and Jess share a room (a blanket hangs up to divide their halves of the room) and they go to the same school. The two older sisters are in high school and the youngest child is a baby. I was really confused by this school. May Belle is probably second or third grade and according to Wikipedia, in the book, Jess and Leslie are in fifth grade. I would say they're probably in sixth grade in the movie...the actors were around 13 when they made this, so I think them being fifth grades might be pushing it. However, there's a girl named Janice who is the school bully who also goes to this school and she's in eighth grade. What kind of school combines elementary and middle school? I have never heard of this. Maybe it's because they live in a small town and don't have the funds to create a middle school so they combine K-8 all together until they go on to high school? At first I thought they were in a middle school and May Belle rode on the same bus as her brother because her school was nearby, but no, they both go to the same school! I know, I know, it's a stupid thing to get caught up on.

Jess has a huge crush on his teacher, Ms. Edmunds and who can blame him because she's played by Zooey Deschanel so he's entranced by her pretty blue eyes and her lovely singing voice. She's the music teacher so she pretty much treats her classroom like it's School of Rock and all the kids are singing and playing instruments. They sing song such as "Why Can't We Be Friends" and "Ooh Ooh Child". This is another similarity to My Girl as Anna Chlumsky's character, Vada, had a crush on her teacher. 

Leslie lives next door to the Aarons with her liberal free-spirited parents who are both writers. I have to wonder if her parents actually make any money. Jess has more strict, grounded parents, especially his father (played by Robert Patrick) who tells him he needs to "keep his head out of the clouds" when he releases a wild animal (a opossum maybe?) that got caught in his dad's greenhouse because he didn't want his dad to kill it. One of the reasons the two become such good friends is not just because they share a love of running, but because they're both bullied. Jess is bullied because he has to wear a pair of one of his sister's hand-me-down pink sneakers to his first day of school. He tries to cover up the pink with a black marker, but it doesn't really help. Leslie is made fun of when she tells her teacher she doesn't have a TV after the teacher assigns the class to watch a nature show. All the kids laugh at her like she's the biggest loser to ever exist and when she explains, "My dad says TV kills your brian cells", she gets in a good comeback to one of the bully kids who tells her, "I watch TV everyday" by replying with, "I rest my case." 

The first time Jess and Leslie hang out, they come across a wide creek near their homes with a rope
swing. Let's just call it the Rope Swing of Doom. Leslie is intrigued by it, but Jess tells her it's been there forever and it's probably not safe. (Yes! Listen to your new friend, Leslie! He is the voice of reason!) However, she swings to the other side and back and tells him how much fun it is, so they both take a few turns on it. Leslie decides they need a place just for the two of them and swings to the other side where she jumps off and Jess follows her. They call this new place Terabithia and both kids, especially Leslie, the daughter of two fiction writers, have vivid imaginations (or maybe just really good drugs!) They imagine that the trees are giant trolls, that the dragonflies are small warriors, that the squirrels are these creatures out to get them, and the sound of an old wind chime is the sound of prisoners rattling their chains. I guess you need a wild imagination when you don't have a TV! They come across this pretty amazing run-down tree house which they fix up and make their own. 

So cute!
Jess is very artistic and loves to draw, so for his birthday, Leslie presents him with a (rather nice) set of paints and brushes while they're on the bus on their way to school. Jess tells her it must have cost a fortune, but yet, later, decides to give Leslie a dog. I think giving someone a dog is a much bigger deal than giving someone a paint set! They name him Prince Terrian, P.T. for short, and take him on their adventures to Terabithia where they use him as a troll hunter. Okay, I have a few questions: how was he able to afford the dog? Did he ask Leslie's parents permission first before he got the dog for her? And most importantly, how the hell did they get the dog across the creek? They didn't swing on the rope with the dog in one hand and their other hand holding the rope, did they? Or did the dog swim across? 

After Janice, the 8th grade bully (maybe she would be a little nicer if she didn't have that horrible haircut with the awful bangs...just saying!) is mean to May Belle AND purposely falls down on the bus and blames Jess for tripping her so he is booted off the bus, both Jess and Leslie decide it's time to teach her a lesson. They write her a note, pretending it's from the cutest boy in eight grade, Willard, (seriously? The cutest boy in the eight grade is named Willard?) because surely she has a crush on him. In the note, which Jess writes while Leslie dictates, "Willard" tells Janice that he really likes her and hopes they can ride home on the bus together and see where things go from there. While Janice is waiting outside the bus for Willard and tells him she got his note and she saved them a seat on the bus, he's very confused and of course he's with all his friends and they just laugh at her as well as everybody else on the bus who witness this embarrassing display. However, a few days later, Leslie hears Janice sobbing in the girls' bathroom and wonder if they went too far. She talks to Janice and we later find out that Janice is mean to everyone because her dad hits her. I looked up the plot summary of the novel on Wikipedia to see if that was part of the book, and it is. Even down to the boy named Willard, so that explains the old-fashioned name. 

Another similarity this movie shares with My Girl is the foreshadowing of the impending death. We get it in that movie when Macaulay Culkin asks Anna Chlulmsky what heaven is like. It's done a lot more nicer in that movie; in this one, it's a little dark! Leslie, who is an atheist (although that word is never uttered), goes to church one Sunday with Jess's family. BTW: her white coat is totally amazing. She seems to enjoy the experience and on the way home, she sits in the back of the pickup truck with Jess and May Belle. She tells them she thinks the whole "Jesus thing" is really interesting, but the two Aarons kids disagree and think it's scary. May Belle tells her, "It's because we're all vile sinners, God made Jesus die." Leslie asks them, "You really think that's true?" and Jess confirms, "It's in the Bible." Leslie tells them, "You have to believe [the Bible] and you hate it. I don't have to believe it and I think it's beautiful." May Belle then drops a huge bomb on her and tells her, "God will damn you to Hell when you die if you don't believe in the Bible." Eeshh! I like Leslie's response with, "I seriously do not think God goes around damning people to Hell...he's too busy running all this!" and waves her hands around her to indicate the world around them. 

The final goodbye
Jess gets in big trouble when he loses his dad's set of keys and if they have to be replaced, it will cost $600. Except he didn't misplace them; May Belle took them because she knew Leslie was looking for something that clanged and clinked to sound like bells. She thought Terabithia needed bells after hearing the church bell from the service she attended. Rightly, Mr. Aarons is super angry with Jess because these keys cost a fortune and are a part of his job. I find it ridiculous that neither May Belle nor Leslie thought it would be wrong to take the keys. Did they not think that someone would need this set of keys? Leslie claims May Belle told her she found them on the ground, but still, you would think someone lost their keys and they weren't just junk. When Jess and Leslie go to fetch the keys, it will be their last adventure together in Terabithia, unbeknownst to them. :::sniff::: 

The following day, a Saturday, Ms. Edmunds calls Jess to take him on a date, I mean, a field trip. I'm sorry, I know they say "field trip", but this was totally a date! They go into the city to visit an art museum and have a cappuccino at the cafe! And when she drops Jess of at his home, he says, "Maybe we can do this again sometime" and she replies with, "Absolutely!" Okay, let me back up. Ms. Edmunds knows about Jess's artistic side and calls him up that morning to invite him to an art museum because she was planning on taking her nephews there, but they weren't able to make it, so she decided to invite Jess in lieu of them. I understand the point of this was to get Jess out of the house and have his parents not know where he is (he does ask his mom, but she's still sleeping and barely says "yes" when he asks if he can go). They also can't make this a class field trip because otherwise Leslie would be there and another point of this is for her not to be there, although when they pass her house, Jess almost seems to want to invite her along (which he will regret not doing for the rest of his life, poor kid), but decides against it because he wants Ms. Edmunds' company all to himself. If this ever happened in this day and age, that teacher would be arrested in a hot minute! I think it would have been a little better if she still took her nephews, but also invited Jess. At least it wouldn't look like a date! Yes, I did look this up, and yes, this does happen in the book, although maybe times were much different in the '70s and nobody blinked an eye if they saw a teacher having "one on one" time with her student.

When Jess returns home later that afternoon, his parents are relieved to see him, as they already know about Leslie's death and think maybe something had happened to him too. Jess gets a weird vibe from his family and asks what's going on and his father bluntly says, "Your friend Leslie is dead." They tell him the rope swing broke and she hit her head on a rock. This is around the time I lose it and start crying. Poor Jess is in denial and when he sees Ms. Edmunds at her service, he tells her, "Next time we should invite Leslie to go," as if Leslie is still alive. Oh, God, poor kid, you know that will haunt him for the rest of his life. He even tells his dad it's his fault, that he didn't want to invite her to the museum, when he finally breaks down and realizes that his best friend is dead, but his dad tells him it's not his fault. I then get another fresh set of tears when Jess is afraid that Leslie has been damned to Hell, but his dad reassures him that "God would never send that little girl to Hell". Mr. Burke tells Jess that he was the best friend Leslie ever had. Seriously, stop making me cry, movie!

There's quite a change in the music class. Instead of being happy and dancing around with the instruments, all the students are singing a song, something about "I wanna know what's over that rainbow" while looking sullen. Poor Jess has his arms folded on his desk with his head resting on them and it's the saddest sight. I bet all these kids feel bad for making fun of Leslie now for not owning a TV! That has got to mess you up, though. To be a kid and have another kid in your class die. Though not everybody is sensitive about her death. One of the bully kids tells Jess, "Guess you're the fastest kid in class now." Good Lord! What kind of a-hole says something like that? Jess punches him. The kid totally deserved it.

The rope swing has been replaced with a bridge that Jess has built with lumber. It's actually pretty impressive what he built.  He invites his sister to enter the world of imagination that he and Leslie created and makes May Belle the Princess of Terabithia. I love how she says it like it's two words: "Tera. Bithia."

David Paterson, the son of the book's author, Katherine Paterson, helped co-write the screenplay. I was actually surprised it took them thirty years to make this a feature film, especially since it was based on a popular book, or at least a well-known book. Yes, it shares similarities with My Girl. To me, it's hard to think of one without thinking of the other, but they also have plenty of differences. Also, My Girl came out fourteen years after Bridge to Terabithia was published and they didn't make a movie about it in those years? Although I discovered it was made into a TV movie in 1985. Apparently it's terrible and that's probably why I wasn't aware of it! Okay, I just watched a clip of it on YouTube, and eesh, the kids who play Jess and Leslie are godawful actors - it's not a surprise neither of their careers took off! It's nice that they finally got a good adaptation of the book, although it took awhile, but sometimes you have to be patient!

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