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A Bridge Back to Childhood with Bridge to Terabithia

Paige Stegina| A&E Editor

There are certain movies that have the power to transport the viewer back to their childhood. One of these movies can certainly be Bridge to Terabithia. The movie is based off of the novel by Katherine Paterson, which won a Newbery Medal in 1978. The inspiration for the novel came from the real life experiences of the author when her son’s friend passed away when she was struck by lightning at eight years old. The story follows two children, Jesse Aarons and his new neighbor Leslie Burke. Although their backgrounds are very different, with Jesse growing up in a poorer family and Leslie as the daughter of two writers, they are able to connect over their shared creative spirit. Jesse is a talented artist and Leslie is an imaginative storyteller. Together, they end up creating an imagined kingdom in their backyard which they call Terabithia. The movie adaptation was released in 2007, starring Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb. Rewatching this movie at an older age gives more perspective to the story as a whole.

As a child, two aspects of the movie typically stay with the viewer. The first is the incredible imagined world of Terabithia. Creating an imagined world in one’s own backyard is something that many children can relate to. The film adaptation does an incredible job in transporting the reader into this imagined world, not only visualizing Terabithia but including small details throughout the movie that help the viewer understand the very thin line between reality and imagination. The second is Leslie’s death towards the end of the story when she drowns in the river. Although the scene is well done and it makes for the wonderful ending where Jesse is able to process his grief and welcome his younger sister into Terabithia, it is abrupt and sudden. Not many children’s stories will include death at all, least of all that of one of the main characters.

However, rewatching the movie, this is not the only more adult topic that is addressed in the story. For example, there is a character, Janice Avery, who is presented as a bully for the majority of the story. However, after Leslie confronts and then comforts her, the viewers learn that Janice is suffering from abuse at the hands of her father. It presents the character in a completely different light. This is not the only heavy topic that is depicted in the story. Family tensions, especially that between father and son, is demonstrated throughout the story. Jesse’s father has high expectations for him, pressuring him in his everyday life, and not accepting his artistic work and imagination. Although these topics may not be completely understood by all young audiences, it adds a separate level to the story that is not normally addressed in children’s stories. Another small detail in the movie that can also be appreciated by older viewers is the strong foreshadowing of Leslie's death through her scuba composition earlier in the story, where she describes diving underwater. Although these are not the main tensions in the story, it certainly gives older viewers a higher appreciation of the work.

This movie directly addresses topics that are not typically included in works for younger viewers, one of the reasons why this movie is so timeless. The story can be appreciated not only for its emphasis on imagination and creativity in everyday life, but also for introducing complicated topics such as loss, grief, and abuse in a very direct manner to make these heavy topics more comprehensible to a young audience.


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