Then I saw a thread on FreeRepublic titled "Bridge to Terabithia" PARENTAL WARNING! SPOILERS! (And do be warned: it's a very spoilery thread.)
Now, I have a very strong opinion about spoilers. I think delilberately springing uninvited spoilers on someone is immoral. I think it is wrong to "spoil" something for someone else. It's like theft: it steals the pleasure of discovery, surprise, delight that they would have had.
It also is a form of theft of the artist. I remember a short story I wrote once with a surprise twist at the end. I gave it to a friend to read. He turned immediately to the last page, and read the last line aloud. I wanted to strangle him. Why had I bothered to craft that whole story, to do the intricate buildup, only to have some _____ short-circuit it all?
Like I said. "A very strong opinion."
But on the other hand, when it comes to my kids, I will sometimes expose myself, if it means taking a "hit" so they don't. So when I saw this, I very reluctantly read; and I'm glad I did.
This is like "Million Dollar Baby" all over again, in that it is advertised as one kind of movie, but actually is a very different movie.
So, be warned, after this there be spoilers.
The movie is based on a book I have not read. It stars AnnaSophia Robb and some guy.
AnnaSophia Robb is a lovely young actress with a 100-gigawatt smile and eyes like saucers. She was winsome in "Because of Winn-Dixie," and she's terrific in this. She plays Leslie Burke, who's new in town and friendless. Not for long. She befriends a repressed underdog named Jessie Aarons, and they forge a warm and fun friendship.
The "some guy" who plays Jesse is Josh Hutcherson. His character calls for him to be largely inward, subdued, smoldering, subdermal; and he's certainly all of that. Jesse loves to draw, and his hardware-store dad does not "get" him. He's got like forty-seven sisters, all of whom seem always to be angry at each other except his little sister, who's a cutie.
Leslie and Jesse both run afoul of bullies both male and female, and they band together and bully back. Jesse also has a crush on his music teacher, played by Zooey Deschanel.
"Okay," you're asking, if you've only seen the trailers and the poster. "So when do they enter this magical kingdom and have wonderful, heartlifting adventures like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?"
Oh, they do use their imagination, and their imaginations are given CGI life. Those scenes are fun, they're well-done, and they're relatively fleeting.
"Fleeting?" you say. "But this is an adventure-fantasy movie! I saw the trailers!"
Yeah, except no. It isn't an adventure-fantasy movie at all. It's sort of a coming-of-age drama and tragedy.
"Tragedy?" you gulp. "I was going to take my kids."
Yeah, I know. A lot of parents took their kids for a fun, escapist afternoon at the movies, drawn in by Disney's very deceptive ad campaign. I heard those parents audibly gasp when Jesse's father tells him that his friend is dead, that she died trying to swing across on the rope they used to get into their imaginary kingdom together. The rope broke, she may have struck her head. She drowned. Dead, for keeps.
"Wait. You heard them gasp? You mean, you took your kids anyway?"
Yes, I did. I read more about the movie, and decided to handle it differently than usual. I talked to my two boys and, for the first time in their lives, spoiled a movie for them. I told them:
- We get to know two kids, a boy and a girl, and the girl dies very sadly.
- We get to know two families, one Christian and one not Christian, and the Christian family is made to look bad.
How did it go?
First, it is a very good movie. Apart from the fact that pretty girls aren't generally friendless for long in schools, their friendship is credible and involving. The movie puts up a complex patchwork of personalities and issues, not too heavy, but not too formulaic. The viewer is definitely drawn in.
And "the sad part" (as we called it) is very sad. I don't mind telling you that the handkerchief came out twice. Mine, not the boys'. Tears were rolling freely down my cheeks for about the last fifteen minutes. Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, but there it is.
Forewarned, the boys were not traumatized nor depressed, and we had a good talk afterwards. Josiah couldn't believe how deceptive the ads were.
Within the movie, though, here's what bothered me the most.
The Christian family was portrayed as bickering, loveless, and borderline dysfunctional. Except for a little secular "redemption" at the end, the father was a boilerplate neglectful, distant, clueless, angry dad. There wasn't a wiff of Gospel about the family either collectively or individually.
Leslie invites herself to church with Jesse (he doesn't broach the subject to her). They talk on the way back. Jesse is unable to tell her much of anything about Christianity, and the little girl basically tells Leslie that she's going to Hell. Then after Leslie dies, Jesse sobbingly asks his dad if Leslie has gone to Hell.
Dad (who now is showing his decent side) says something like: "I don't know much about all this, but I can't imagine God sending a sweet little girl like that to Hell."
And there you go. The father has nothing to give but sentimental guesswork. He can't reassure his son that God is holy and merciful, that He will certainly do the right thing. He can't point Jesse to Christ, can't say that this reminds us how short life is, how dear Christ must be, how earnest we must be about telling others of His love. He can't give it, because he doesn't have it to give. He's a Hollywood-approved "Christian" dad.
So here is yet another professedly Christian family, broken and clueless; another non-Christian family, warm and loving and open. The movie's "Hollywood-gospel" call is given by Leslie, and echoed by Jesse at the end: "Keep your mind wide open."
"He wasn't a very good friend to her," I told my boys. "She was asking questions about God and the Bible, and he didn't have any answers for her." He couldn't tell her how she could know God, or didn't care to.
Jesse didn't, Jesse's dad didn't, I guess his mom and shallow older sisters didn't. It's just another "Christian" Gospel-free family, brought to us by Hollywood. I think back on "A River Runs Through It." Gorgeous movie, interesting story, well-acted, drove me nuts. About a pastor and his two sons. Pastor-dad doesn't even so much as mention the Gospel, even in passing, ever, that I recall. Reads poetry from his pulpit. Poetry! Boys don't even bother to indicate that they've rejected anything, because nothing is presented to reject.
The author of The Bridge to Terabithia is Katherine Paterson, who professes Christian faith. She says,
I wrote Bridge because our son David's best friend, an eight-year-old named Lisa Hill, was struck and killed by lightning. I wrote the book to try to make sense out of a tragedy that seemed senseless.I can't possibly judge the book by the movie. A parent who was there remarked that the last twenty minutes were exactly like the book.
I don't know what "sense" the movie makes of Leslie's sad, sad death. Christian Dad says it makes no sense. Someone (I think the music teacher) tells Jess to keep Leslie alive in his memories. He then revisits his imaginary kingdom, this time with his little sister. He envisions all sorts of fantastic beings in Terabithia.
Leslie is not among them.
I'll just say that, if the movie is true to the book, the author portrayed the kind of Christian family Hollywood is comfortable with: dysfunctional, with no credible nor compelling—nor threatening—Christian witness.
So there it is. I loved the actors, I liked the movie, I hated the ad campaign, and I hate Hollywood's general inability (or unwillingness) to find screenwriters who can write a genuine, credible Christian character. These families represent Hollywood's view of Christians, and of themselves. I can understand that. I saw things that way once myself. But that all changed.
POSTSCRIPT: to be very clear, I am not saying that all Christian families are loving and speak in Bible verses, nor am I saying that all non-Christian families are horrid and hateful. But can't some Christian families make it to the movies with their Christian faith intact, identifiable, and on-display?