Bridge to Terabithia — Ending Explained & Plot Summary

All we need is love, or a bridge to Terabithia
Can a film in which a child dies make an unusually bright impression? If we are talking about “Bridge to Terabithia”, then the answer will be in the affirmative, although even critics of the novel of the same name by K. Paterson, which became the basis of the film, reproached the writer for the death of the main character.

But the paradox is that the film, skillfully pretending to be another story from the life of schoolchildren, in fact, does not touch on children’s issues at all. It is no coincidence that there are many adults among the fans of Gabor Chupo’s first full-length film – after all, it can be viewed with equal success as a colorful and poetic parable about the meaning of life and the keys to happiness.

Film and book

“Bridge to Terabithia”, written back in 1977, is perhaps the most famous work of the American Catherine Paterson. She has always been inspired to write books by events from the lives of her four children and their friends, and “Bridge to Terabithia” was no exception. In August 1974, suddenly, from a ridiculous lightning strike, a sweet girl Lisa, who was the best friend of little David Paterson, died. The book is a tribute to Lisa’s memory and at the same time an attempt to help his son come to terms with this loss.

The plot, characters and meaning of the film are very close to the text of the story, although, of course, it was not without some simplification of individual lines, for example, in the film, Jess’s unwillingness to take Leslie to the museum is not explained in any way, and the book says that the boy was secretly in love with his teacher.

The name “Terabithia” originated from the name of the Narnian island of Terebintia in the story “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by K. Lewis.

Why is Terabithia located in a forest?

It is obvious that the fairyland exists exclusively in the fantasies of the heroes, but the kingdom is located precisely in the forest, not only because it is easy to hide from everyone there. The forest is a very ancient symbol of “alien”, forbidden territory, where not people live, but a goblin, mermaids and other mythological characters. Jess and Leslie populated it with trolls, but they disappeared after the boy brought his sister to Terabithia and the fears disappeared from his mind.

As a metaphor, Terabithia is a personal territory of power, peace that exists in the soul of every person who has managed to preserve the best childish properties: faith in goodness, imagination and the ability to dream.

What brings Jess and Leslie closer together?

At first glance, the Leslie family and the Jess family are heaven and earth, but if you look closely, the differences are rather external. Yes, Jess’s parents are simple people, and Leslie’s father and mother belong to the creative intelligentsia, but this does not save the girl from loneliness. While the parents are writing the next book, they have no time for their daughter. At the same time, it cannot be said that Jess’s parents do not care about their son, that he is not dear to them. There are no monster parents in Chupo’s film, but both children lack true friends and space for self-realization.

The difference between children lies in their attitude to the world around them: if Leslie is open to him, then Jess spent a long time in a kind of cocoon, a retinue of loneliness, complexes and distrust. Leslie “disenchants” his friend, and Jess’s soul is revealed, he begins to fruitfully interact with other people. And even the death of Leslie does not change anything: Jess finds a new friend in the person of his sister May Belle.

Why is Leslie dying?

Regardless of the tragic fate of the prototype of the heroine, at the sight of a girl as sweet as kind, creative and cheerful, practically devoid of flaws and full of a bright beginning, the old formula that appeared in the 19th century “She was too good for this world” comes to mind. Leslie is a child who was never destined to become an adult, who managed to maintain his spiritual purity and kindness.

She is never angry and does not despair, is always ready to help and support. Some critics interpret her death as a symbolic punishment for Jess, others believe that her departure was necessary, otherwise Jess would not have called his sister to Terabithia, but a third interpretation is also possible.

What if Leslie did not exist in the form in which we see her? After all, all the events of the film are shown through the eyes of Jess, and perhaps we are dealing with a classic fictional friend who arose in his imagination at the sight of a pretty new girl. For all the unexpectedness of this approach, he explains a lot in the world of Terabithia, and, in particular, the appearance of trolls in it.

Where did these gloomy images come from in Leslie’s mind, why are they needed in a fairyland? But if you remember that in the finale, the terrible ghost turns out to be the boy’s father. It is unlikely that he would have found a place in Leslie’s fantasies, but Jess was afraid of his father. Trolls symbolize his real fears and concerns.

What is the meaning of the bridge?

The bridge that Jess built changes the status of Terabithia: the land of fantasy becomes a part of reality, or, more precisely, the most important thing that the boy found in his magic forest: love, friendship and creativity turns into reality. And the inscription above the entrance – “Nothing will crush us” – underlines the radical change in his personality. Trolls are no longer scary, because the boy stopped seeing enemies and strangers in the surrounding area.

Why didn’t Jess take Leslie to the museum?

If in the book, as already mentioned, everything is simple: the boy is in love with the teacher, then in the film the viewer is free to make any guesses. According to some critics, the teacher and her museum were part of a world that Jess wanted to keep only for himself. Perhaps he wanted to boast of his trip to Leslie, to show that he was also not bastard – a desire more than understandable for a teenager.

What is the meaning of the boat scene?

Letting go of a toy boat with a portrait of Leslie along the river waters, Jess symbolically “lets go” of the girl and his imaginary guilt in her death. From now on, memories of a friend will cause him not suffering, but only slight sadness.

What’s the point of the movie?

As long as the film features a fictional world, one cannot do without mentioning escapism as a means of solving everyday problems. Terabithia, invented by a talented young dreamer, helps her adapt to new conditions, and her friend gains faith in herself, but to consider G. Chupo’s masterpiece as a hymn of fantasy as a way of escape from reality means irreparably impoverishing its meaning.

In the “Bridge to Terabithia” two semantic layers are clearly visible. The first emphasizes in every possible way the importance of preserving the inner Child in the structure of the personality, which is responsible for spontaneity and creativity. At the beginning of the film, eleven-year-old Jess has this part of his “Ego” already suppressed, driven underground: the boy is gloomy and serious, like an adult loser without a glimmer of hope. Things are even worse for his parents, who, under the yoke of poverty and cares, have forgotten how beautiful and vast the world is, how many miracles there are in it, and the most important among them is love.

It is love that is lacking in almost all the heroes of the film, and above all Jess. This, of course, is not about eroticism, but about that biblical love for one’s neighbor, which his deeply religious parents forgot to teach his son. Jess not only repulses his sister for a long time – he does not love himself and, as a result, does not believe in his capabilities. But not only it is hard for him to live without love: Leslie, and little May Belle, and even the main “villain” of the film, the large and angular eighth-grader Janice, feel the lack of warmth.

Only love gives us wings and turns grubs into princesses, and only the ability to love gives meaning to our life. The truths are well-known, but Chupo manages to remind them in such a beautiful and at the same time accessible to any viewer from nine to ninety forms that there is no doubt: “Bridge to Terabithia” is one of the best family films of all times and peoples.

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