"Almost a Masterpiece"
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is a stirring family movie based on the celebrated children’s novel. Magical, funny, serious, and profound, it is one of the most brilliantly made, most powerful movies made in the last ten years. It’s not without flaws, however.
The focus of the story is young Jess, a sad middle school boy whose parents are trying to make ends meet on the family farm. With three sisters, including young May Belle, to raise, his parents don’t have time to nurture the boy or his drawing talent, which they see as impractical, especially his father. Into Jess’s life comes Leslie, a vivacious blonde girl from the city with a precocious imagination. She helps Jess get through the school day, where the children are bullied by some boys and by a mean 8th grade girl named Janice.
Jess and Leslie go exploring past the stream on the farm, where Leslie imagines a fantasy kingdom where she and Jessie are heroes come to save the people from the “Dark Master.” Slowly, Jess is drawn into Leslie’s fantasy game. They both find solace in their imaginary adventures, which resemble the troubles they go through at school. Jess’s crush on the school music teacher, however, threatens to tear their friendship apart in ways that Jessie could never imagine, even in his darkest nightmares.
Out of all the children’s movies in the last ten years, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA stands out as perhaps the most accomplished. It is so well done that it puts most of the adult movies that win acclaim to shame completely.
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA also has a strong Christian worldview that’s profound and incredibly touching. That worldview is slightly spoiled by the one flaw in the movie, which brings a note of ambiguity to the story. One Sunday, Jess’s family brings Leslie to church where the congregation sings, “That Old Rugged Cross.” In the church, Leslie pretends to catch a beautiful sunbeam in her little purse from one of the stained glass windows. After the service, in the back of the family pickup, Leslie says a couple positive things about the service and about Jesus. She, Jess and May Belle then discuss whether God will send people to Hell if they don’t believe in the Bible. Jess and Maybelle says God will, but Leslie says she doesn’t believe that.
This scene introduces a note of universalism in the movie. Universalism is a false doctrine that says you don’t have to believe in Jesus Christ or His Gospel in order to go to Heaven. It also says that God will not send people to Hell who don’t believe in Jesus, His Gospel or the Bible. Later in the movie, without giving anything anyway, Jess leaves the matter in God’s hands. Then, in another poignant scene near the end, the movie seems to side with the notion that we should trust in God’s grace, compassion and love when it comes to the salvation of any one particular individual.
Thus, the movie doesn’t quite settle the theological question it brings up in its story, nor does it overtly preach an evangelistic message of salvation in Jesus Christ. This is an approach that we actually have heard some Christians (including some leaders in the more liberal denominations) take toward the question of how people get to Heaven or Hell. For example, you may run across Christians who say that, although Jesus and the apostles appear to say that you must believe in Jesus to be saved, or you will go to Hell, they say that God is a loving God who wishes that no person shall perish. Therefore, we should instead put our trust in God enough that He and His grace will cover up some people’s weaker faith, their doubts, and even their disbelief in some aspects of what the Bible teaches or seems to be teaching. Some Christians also say that, even if Jesus and the Bible does say definitively that you must believe in Him or go to Hell, Christians should still appeal to Jesus and God the father for more mercy toward people with weak faith, strong doubts and disbelief in doctrines that may not necessarily be essential to their salvation.
In the final scenes, this seems to be what BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA appears to be suggesting. Thus, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA doesn’t quite fall into the trap of overtly preaching a kind of universalism, which is a false doctrine that leads many people astray, but the movie does water down the Gospel to the slight degree that MOVIEGUIDE® must caution moviegoers about these brief but important aspects of the movie. In the end, the movie is a little too ambiguous to give it a totally positive endorsement. The movie also has brief foul language and some scary encounters with imaginary creatures in the forest that deserve a caution.
It would be easy to fix the movie, however, without sounding like a self-righteous, mean-spirited know-it-all. While it is true that we should let God be the judge of an individual person’s state of grace or salvation, we can and should remind people that Jesus Christ is God’s provision for our sinfulness. He is also our one and only source of salvation. Thus, there must be a serious consequence for those people who decide to consciously reject God’s plan of salvation after they hear it. Otherwise, those who accept Jesus Christ and obey His commands for how to live their lives can be seen as utter fools for doing so. In that light, the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be seen as a great blessing, especially for those who believe, and not as just a curse for those who refuse to believe. As Paul says in Acts 17, God has in the past overlooked the ignorance of people, but now He commands everyone to turn away from their sins and turn toward Jesus Christ, the Son of God who God raised from the dead so that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have Eternal Life in Heaven.
All of that said, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is an extremely captivating and poignant movie with an uplifting church scene and an uplifting reference to “that old rugged cross.” The acting by the children is brilliant. The direction by first-time live-action director Gabor Csupo (RUGRATS) is superb. And, the final third of the movie is an emotionally powerful experience that will make you cry, make you think, and make you feel inspired and uplifted. Thus, the positive qualities and strengths of the movie are very strong and deserve strong commendation.
(CC, BB, FR, Ro, L, V, M) Strong Christian worldview with strong moral content including some forgiveness, compassion, positive references to Jesus, church and the Cross, and discussion of some very serious issues in an uplifting, compassionate way, but spoiled by some brief false religion that verges on universalism and a possible Romantic worldview about the sinfulness of mankind; four obscenities and one light profanity, plus some references to pee when older girl won’t let younger girls visit bathroom without giving her money; some pretend violence such as children pretend to fight scary creatures, being chased by a tree troll, etc., as they play, and children swing across rope over stream, boy punches other boy, another boy has bloody nose from implied punch, and boy shoves his little sister away but later apologizes; no sex; no nudity; and, children bully one another, lying and father gets angry at son, telling him to get his head out of the clouds.
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is a family movie based on the celebrated children's novel. The focus of the story is young Jess, a sad middle school boy whose parents are trying to make ends meet on the family farm. With three sisters, including young May Belle, to raise, they don’t have time to nurture the boy or his drawing talent. Into Jess’s life comes Leslie, a vivacious blonde girl from the city with a precocious imagination. She helps Jess get through the school day, where children are bullied by other students. Jess’s crush on the school music teacher, however, threatens to tear their friendship apart in ways that Jessie could never imagine, even in his nightmares.
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is one of the most brilliantly made, most powerful movies made in the last ten years. It's not without flaws, however. Although the movie has a strong Christian worldview with positive references to forgiveness, compassion, Jesus Christ, church, and the Cross, it contains brief foul language and a brief, but important, theological problem that comes close to diluting the Gospel. Despite these flaws, the movie’s strengths are strong and should be commended.