The first time I watched Bridge to Terabithia (2007) a few years ago, I hated it… or, more accurately, I was loving it right up until The Tragic Plot Twist, and then I just felt horribly cheated and angry. It was on TV over Xmas, so I recorded it on the off-chance I might want to see how I felt second time around… but I couldn’t make myself sit through the whole thing all over again, so I ended up watching it with the sound muted and the subtitles on (to follow what was happening for “research” purposes), while listening to some cheery music. Consequently, this isn’t going to be a typical “review” post, so much as rant about how much I hate The Tragic Plot Twist.
It’s not that I object to teaching kids about death… I understand why that’s important, and I accept that not every story has to have a happy ending… I understand that ‘Leslie Burke’ (AnnaSophia Robb) had to be such an adorable moppet, so that the audience would feel the gut-punch when she died… I understand that it was more meaningful to have her die off-screen, because that’s the way the world works sometimes (so many devastating decisions that effect our real lives are made by other people “off-screen”). Yes, I understand all of that.
What really pisses me off is the fact that the girl had to die, to inspire the boy. The story was actually based on a real-life tragedy, suffered by the author’s son as a child, when a girl he knew was struck by lightning… so it wasn’t a conscious choice on Katherine Paterson’s part, but it still leaves me with a nasty taste in my mouth. A film critic named Nathan Rabin coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, to describe a stock character in films he describes as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” MPDGs are like quirky guardian angels, assigned to dance, sing, joke and flirt a depressed leading man out of his doldrums, with no concern for their own ambitions or happiness. Leslie doesn’t quite fit the category, because MPDGS are usually grown women who behave like children, whereas she actually is a child… but otherwise she seems to be prime candidate. Watching it through again, I noticed that she only has one short scene to herself (when the bully obstructs her from using the bathroom), and spends the rest of her screen time doting on the hero, doing everything in her power to make his life more colourful and carefree… it’s true she does cause the occasional upset (such as when she uses his Dad’s work keys as a wind-chime), but it’s never intentional, and she always goes well out of her way to make up for it. The only nice thing he does for her in return, as far as I can see, is to give her a puppy that he got for free from a roadside market stall… and I doubt he offered to chip in for the vet and food bills either! Even worse, he shrugs her off for a single Saturday morning to go visit a museum, and the poor thing’s so helpless and heartbroken without him she goes and gets herself killed! Ack! It’s almost as aggravating as the scene in David Mamet’s The Edge, where the two white guys leave the black guy alone with a knife for a few minutes while they pow-wow, then come back to find that he’s accidentally (fatally, as it turns out) stabbed himself in the leg, for no apparent reason!
I know, I know… I’m probably getting my knickers in a twist over nothing… but at the end of the day, it’s the boy who strides away emboldened and inspired, while the girl gets buried in the ground. And that ain’t right.