It’s been 15 years since we were collectively traumatized by a seemingly innocent fantasy film: Bridge to Terabithia.
Everyone regretted watching truly scary horror too early in life, but there’s a collective of films that seemed to appeal to younger audiences but shook them to their core: Bambifor obvious reasons; My daughter, for killing Macaulay Culkin with bees; and the death of Artax in The never-ending storyto name a few.
For a given generation, the mere mention of Bridge to Terabithia causes swollen cheeks in remembrance; lest we forget the fate of Jess and Leslie, and one of the most heartbreaking children’s films of modern times.
Spoiler warning for Bridge to Terabithia:
Bridge to Terabithia, based on the novel of the same name by Katherine Paterson (the film is also written by David L. Paterson, the author’s son) and directed by Gábor Csupó, follows Jess (Josh Hutcherson), an aspiring artist from a poor family who strike up a friendship with Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), a fellow fifth grader who beats him in a foot race. They soon learn that they are neighbors, and in an effort to escape the misfortunes of their lives, they create an imaginary world called Terabithia to deal with reality.
To a point, it’s largely very whimsical, affable and powerfully imaginative, with two likable stars at the helm. Alas, their adventures were doomed from the start: Jess is later informed that Leslie died after hitting her head against the stream after trying to swing on a rope. It blinds you completely on your first watch, but its pain isn’t diluted on the second, third, hell – even your 10th watch.
In addition to grossing over $137 million worldwide, it received critical acclaim, with the film earning an 85% Rotten Tomatoes rating. “A family film that acknowledges that there are interesting, intelligent fifth graders out there who aren’t obsessed with fart jokes or potty humor,” Brian Tallerico wrote for UGO.
“Terabithia picks up a lot of emotional punch as it goes, and anyone leaving the theater with a dry eye should be checked for a pulse,” Tom Long also wrote for Detroit News.
While Bridge to Terabithia appeals to our need for escape, it’s firmly rooted in a rather dark pillar of life: people die, even when you least expect it. We may have walked out of the cinema or ejected the DVD with tears streaming down our faces, but who knows: maybe that prepared us for heartbreak more than we ever imagined.