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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Kids And Death

So - simply because without visual stimuli we might have passed out moments after getting off work, The Girl and I rented The Bridge To Tarabithia last night. We'd been listening to a lot of Harry Potter lately and I thought it might meld.

Jeebus. OK, I'm totally going to spoil the movie here. Someone dies. Not in some weird fantasy sense that gets reversed later or anything. No, dies as in that tragic way that happens to some people. In fact, there is very little fantasy to this movie. It is largely about this kid's crappy life and - just when it gets better - what happens when someone dies. If you've seen trailers for this film ... be warned - you're just seeing a trailer for the sappy 10 minute finale of the movie, not the other 80 minutes of the film.

This isn't really a review though as much as a question - why do movies feel kids need to learn about death? Especially in surprising, tragic and sometimes extremely violent ways. Ever seen Ring Of Bright Water? It's essentially a Disney geographic pic mashed up with a snuff film. Who wants to show a kid over an hour worth of material with a cute otter frolicking about only to have it get bludgeoned to death brutally with a shovel?

As a taboo subject to deal with - death is pretty complicated. Unlike the other taboo elements of life, like sex and violence - we don't have a lot of solid data about death. Plus - it's not exactly common. Sure, the family cat or fish probably won't outlive your kid's childhood ... but do you really need a media meme to deal with that?

And of course, to bring this all the way around, I don't see any hoard of psychologists suggesting that these themes are bad for kids because they endorse murdering people or animals ... despite the fact that the films routinely make the event out to be some kind of positive by the end of the plot.

Just a question is all. And to think I almost got a horror movie but didn't because I didn't want anything too depressing.


jvm said...

Well, the book it was taken from was a recommended book when I was younger. And what you've described is what happens in the book. Let me tell you a story about that...

My fourth grade teacher read it to us, a bit at a time right before lunch over the course of several days. She got to the death and the book simply does not work reading out loud if you're not a good voice actor, I suspect. Lots of repetition (probably "No, no, no"'s been years) that doesn't read well.

So we laughed.

We were already uncomfortable. We'd been sucker punched and then there was this difficult to understand repetition. Nervous tittering broke into real laughter.

The teacher blew a gasket. How dare we laugh at this! Caring people don't laugh when someone dies. Etc.

Then we went to lunch. Thank heavens.

After lunch we had a more rational discussion about what had happened and why it was not the kind of thing to laugh at. None of us were prepared to explain what had happened, because we were just youngsters.

This memory is still with me and still evokes a cluster of discomfort and amusement. I think I got a lot more out of that event than the author of the book ever intended.

Josh said...

And what don't get is ... do parents really want their kids sucker-punched?

What was wrong with a mouse waving a wand around to dancing hippos anyway?

jvm said...

Obviously, we need kids who are hardened against the horrors of the post-apocalyptic world of the next decade.

Seriously, though, there are some lost parents out there who don't appear to think at all. I know a couple whose almost-five-year-old once told me that her favorite move was...Terminator 2. The mother told me that they still had to comfort her when he melts himself at the end.