Why Charlotte’s Web is the Perfect Movie to Teach Someone About Death

Charlottes_web_posterWatching Charlotte’s Web as an adult was nothing short of profound. I watched with older eyes than the child who saw talking farm animals, a gluttonous rat, and an illiterate goose.

This time, the themes of dealing with death and embracing the circle of life could not be missed. The main character, after all, is a pig. And as everybody knows, pigs serve only one purpose: to die and be eaten. I had forgotten how frantically obsessed with death Wilbur is in this movie.

But Charlotte the spider serves as Wilbur’s angel, teaching him that there is more to life than death.

I fell in love with Charlotte. She is incredible. The way that she views the purpose of life and the inevitability of death is remarkable. The next time I know someone who loses a loved one, I’m going to recommend that they watch this movie. Because somehow Charlotte makes death seem not so scary. Here’s how she does it:

1. Charlotte treats life as a privilege, not a right.

In her prime, Charlotte feels absolute joy to share a lineage with Mother Earth and Father Time. Perhaps it has to do with her nature as a spider, ending the lives of so many insects and realizing that she herself only has a couple of years to live.

But she kills, lives, and dies so respectfully, fully aware of her place in the large scheme of Time and Nature.

The song she sings to drive home this point is incredible:

2. Charlotte makes friendship and service the center of her life.

WIlburCharlotte promises Wilbur that she won’t let the humans kill him. She then patiently dedicates her life to helping Wilbur live. She comes up with the ideas, does the work, and turns Wilbur into an un-killable celebrity.

And she recognizes the importance of what she’s doing. She says, “By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heavens knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

3. Charlotte greets the end with complete peace.

CharlotteIronically, amidst Wilbur’s frantic struggle to avoid death, he doesn’t even realize that Charlotte’s entire life has come and gone while he has been oblivious to her own mortality.

Almost out of the blue (from Wilbur’s perspective), the wise and seemingly invincible Charlotte peacefully says that she’s “languishing” and calmly explains to Wilbur that she’s dying. She feels no fear, and no regret, having lived a grateful life, happy to have been a part of Mother Earth for a while. We’ve been so distracted by Wilbur’s avoidance of death to even realize that Charlotte’s death was always going to come much sooner.

She dies quietly on top of a wooden beam in a barn, in her dying moments only hoping that Wilbur will not hurt. It happens so suddenly and undramatically. And the way she accepts it all is beautiful.

4. Charlotte recognizes that she will live on through her legacy.

Before Charlotte dies she builds something that she calls her magnum opus, or her “greatest work”: her egg sac. Even after all of the beautiful webs and letters that give the movie its name, she takes most pride in the home she has created for her future children. Charlotte lives on.

She also lives on in Wilbur. The last few minutes of the movie show how much Wilbur has changed and how his life has now become less about him, and more about others. He’s become the new Charlotte character as he takes care of Charlotte’s children and other new farm animals.

Before she passes, Charlotte says something that must have left a life-changing impression on Wilbur. To him, life was all about not dying. Charlotte says, “After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” She was so focused on the living part of life, that the dying wasn’t really the issue. And she chose to live her life as one of the greatest friends/mentors/saviors in all of literature.

Bonus Lessons:

The power of the media.

Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life because of a few words that she writes in her web. She writes “Some Pig”, and people immediately believe that Wilbur is “some pig.” She writers “terrific,” and they call him terrific. Same with “radiant” and “humble.” The two interesting things that I took from this were:

1. People will often believe something immediately and without question, and without proof, simply because it has been written. I’m guilty as much as the next guy.

2. People foolishly don’t even mention the spider who actually did the amazing feat. The pig didn’t make the miraculous web. The spider did. But the people give all the credit to the face they can see. Don’t we do the same?

In Charlotte’s words, “Trust me Wilbur. People are very gullible. They’ll believe anything they see in print.”

Friendships change

Fern, the little girl who takes Wilbur in and saves him from an early slaughter, is one of Wilbur’s best friends. But throughout the movie, she gets older, and little by little her relationship with Wilbur changes. Eventually she crushes on a neighbor boy, and she heads off to the ferris wheel, leaving Wilbur behind. But through all of it, you never blame Fern, because Fern is obviously a pure-hearted person. Things change. People get older. You leave college. You get married. You have kids. Most friendships weren’t made to last forever, so you should be grateful for them while they are around.

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