Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bridging the Gaps

Cathy asked in comments to this post how we liked Bridge to Terebithia. I responded in the comments, but I wanted to repeat them in a post.


I enjoyed the movie and thought the acting was very good, especially by the girl who played Leslie. The acting of the other kids was good as well, although the directing was off sometimes - if the big bully boys were supposed to be tough, why were they singing and clapping and participating with the music teacher just like everyone else? Every bully I even knew detested "participating" and especially in music. It would've been more believable for them to have acted as if they were barely interested. Since they participated, I kept expecting them to come around at the end like the girl bully did. But it didn't happen so it felt a bit fake.

Speaking of the girl bully (whose name escapes me), it bothered me a little that Jesse and Leslie didn't seem to feel a twinge of guilt at the pain they caused her over the fake love letter. I was the recipient of one of those practical joke letters long ago and while I wasn't actually interested in the girl it was supposed to be from and assumed it was a fake from the tone of the note, if I had thought it was her and gotten my hopes up, I would've been crushed. But the movie seemed to take special care to present it as an acceptable form of "revenge". The girl was truly hurt and I thought the movie did a disservice to the audience by not addressing this as wrong.

I don't know how old the characters are in the book, but the kids almost seemed to old to be participating in the kind of "make-believe" that Leslie and Jessie were, which kind of took me out of that aspect of the movie a bit. I'm all for escapism and fantasy, and for not losing the aspect of childhood as we move into adolescence (goodness knows I still have it) but Jesse didn't seem to have enough of a "fantasy life" outside Terebithia to justify its creation. Sure we saw him draw and draw well, but nothing else in his life suggested he had any interest in fantasy worlds - trolls, kings, castles, faeries, magic, etc.

I would have liked to see him exhibit either more of a previous interest in fantasy, or come to embrace Leslie's vision of it more slowly. It was too quick and easy. For 7-yr-old Maybelle it was easy to believe, not for 12-yr-old Jessie.

The part where the teacher took Jessie to the museum, basically without her getting his parents permission herself, was creepy. If it had been another movie, I would've assumed some nefarious intent and if I were Jessie's parents I would be highly peeved that she just called him up - personally - and basically asked him on a date without consulting them. Teachers don't interact with students outside of class, especially middle-school-age and up students, without the parents being involved on the front end. I loved that she recognized his talent and wanted to take him and introduce him to the larger world of art but the way she did it suggests things we don't need to see and kids don't need to see as acceptable.

None of the kids we took seemed shocked or particularly upset that the girl died, but almost every one expected her to be in Terebithia at the end, waiting for Jesse and Maybelle. Or even thought she faked her death and ran away. They didn't want her to be gone, and didn't want to accept that fact. In tried and true boy fashion, they invented ways for her to come back. I'm not sure if that's a denial impulse or a male desire to "fix things" but I thought it was interesting.

This may seem a rather negative review, but overall I truly enjoyed the movie. Some of the parts above brought me out of true believability however and I think that was the director and scriptwriter's fault more than the actors or technical minds. Apparently the creator of the Rugrats kids show directed it, and that may explain some lack of acceptable maturity seen in the older kids.

I may be criticizing the filmmakers unfairly based on problems with the source material itself, but I haven't read the book so I don't know. I do know, however, that filmmakers have a responsibility to present positive messages to young people today. That doesn't mean everything in a movie has to be sanitized to the point there is no real conflict or controversy - not at all. I do believe that they need to recognize what things are good what things are bad, and present them that way. If a character stumbles, show the effect of the stumble and how they deal with it. If they do something good, celebrate it. If they do something bad, acknowledge it, explain it, and show how they deal with it (or don't deal with it - either is good storytelling). The ending of the movie, how Jesse dealt with Leslie's death by dealing his relationships with his father and sister, was spot on. But some of the other parts of the movie I illustrated above needed to be addressed in some way that was not. Even small, seemingly insignificant points can be stored by a child and pulled out in a real life situation at a later time without understanding their meaning. I hope a kid somewhere that's being bullied doesn't get the idea that writing a fake love letter is a good way to get back at the bully. It may be a satisfying way of taking revenge at the moment, but revenge is never a positive response to conflict. We need to emphasize that.

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