Located within the heart of the woods where fifth graders Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke live lies an imaginary kingdom where pinecone-propelling squirrels are vicious grenade-launching “Squogres,” and huge tree trunks are like giant trolls. Accessible only by an old rope swing hanging over a creek, the kingdom of Terabithia is a made-up world of fantastic creatures which pose imaginary dangers and which stand as a parallel to the real-life bullies these outsiders encounter in school every day.
If you’re thinking you’ve heard this story before, be wary, Terabithia is no Narnia; although the lines of reality and fantasy are visually blurred in the film in order to convey what the children are imagining, the characters never confuse the two realms.
Adapted from a children’s book by the same title, “Bridge to Terabithia” introduces the friendship between Jesse, a rustic loner whose passion is drawing, and Leslie, a free-spirited newcomer who excels at writing. The film explores how this relationship ignites Jesse’s inner conflict between dwelling in a world of imagination and drawing, or chucking it for a more pragmatic existence which stays true to his rural upbringing.
The film also delves into other adult themes, such as religion and death; it unabashedly defends atheistic epistemology, with Leslie unwittingly serving as the mouthpiece, and it’s refreshing to see a children’s film which explores the kinds of issues all age groups can relate to.
Her statement about atheism as a morally sound theory of knowledge was especially tasteful, and is just the kind of tolerance children should be exposed to. Watching the innocent, ephemeral relationship unfold between these two sensitive soul mates is touching and beautiful; the ideological exchange that occurs between them is profound and moving.
It’s a love story made all the more charming because of its platonic nature, and all the more pressing because of its transience.
Deborah Acosta can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.