Twilight: A Fundamentalist’s Dilemma

I saw the new Twilight movie the other day.  It wasn’t too bad.  By this I mean that unlike two of the other films in the series, I was not bored to tears for long stretches.  There was actually a substantial amount of drama in the film.  Kristen Stewart even showed a little emotion.

SPOILER ALERT:  The plot is bizarre, but easy to explain.  Vampire Edward and human Bella get married, then consummate their marriage.  Edward is afraid said consummation will hurt his frail human bride, and he’s not entirely off base.  Wife Bella has plans for Edward to turn her into a vampire before the end of the honeymoon so that they can spend eternity together.  Midway through their vacation she discovers she is pregnant with a vampire-human spawn that is growing at a heavily accelerated rate within her body.  The child is stealing so many nutrients from her that her life is in danger.  Though she’s under a lot of pressure to terminate the pregnancy and fetus, she refuses and consistently refers to her spawn as “the baby.”  She dies giving birth, but thanks to the rejuvenating power of vampire venom, is turned into one of them at the last minute.  Thus ends “Breaking Dawn, Part I.”

What a movie, huh?  Tough to watch at parts, but better than watching Bella stare at the wall.

I’ve already talked about Mormons with reference to Twilight, but I will say it again: there are a lot of traditional family values present in this movie.  Hyper-conservative and fundamentalist Christians should in particular have a lot to appreciate.  Consider:

  • Valiant Edward refuses to have sex with his very willing girlfriend until AFTER they are married.
  • Their consummation, though difficult, is portrayed as a beautiful and appropriate expression of marital intimacy.
  • The elevation of marriage as THE appropriate path in life.
  • Rather than waste time in the world, Bella marries at 18 and “gets on with her life.”
  • How the move for Bella from family of origin to the new family of her husband happens swiftly and powerfully.
  • The not-so-subtle reminder that sex and marriage has consequences: the possibility of pregnancy, regardless of whether you thought it possible.
  • How time and  again, Bella refuses to consider the possibility of abortion.  The life of her child (not fetus) is simply too important.

Mary Pols of Time hated the movie, but confirms its particular view of the world:

The world’s most insipid young lovers, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), finally consummate their love in Breaking Dawn—Part 1, the fourth installment in the Twilight series. This is cause for celebration only because it means our death march through the movie adaptations of Stephenie Meyer’s twisted but steadily puritanical saga is finally nearing its end…

This is Meyer’s worst offense — her disturbingly Victorian attitudes about sex and love, which this movie falls modestly in lockstep with, even though it concludes years of cinematic foreplay. Twilight came out in 2008, but it feels like we’ve been waiting a decade for these two to get past first base. I know it’s too late in the game to get all hot and bothered about the basic premise. But there are so many scenes of people standing around doing nothing and posing ridiculously, like models in a commercial for high-end jeans, that I had time to reflect on both the petty (like how peculiar Bella’s gown is, ill-fitting spandex in the bodice, Priscilla of Boston lace panels in the back) and the perverse. This is the stuff of gothic novels…Bella relinquishes control, sexual pupil to Edward’s century-old rake, while he wakes up in the morning full of mopey self-loathing (“How badly are you hurt?”). Maybe Meyer never got over her own teenage Georgette Heyer phase.

There is also something extraordinarily deflating about realizing that you are sitting among a throng of blissful fans content with such a static enterprise.

It is these “blissful fans” that intrigue me.  Author Stephanie Meyer and the Twilight films may have actually done something here that years of preaching and attempted Republican legislation have failed to do: they’ve made family values cool.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if it is Bella and Edward rather than the youth pastor or purity ring that keep adolescents from “giving it up” too soon?

I’m not that naive, but it is an interesting phenomena.  While I don’t agree with all the perspectives the film shares about marriage, sex, and the like, I do find some things to admire.  Those on the very conservative end of things should be in love with the film.  But that’s the irony, of course.  The more theologically conservative one becomes, the more the values depicted in the film become important.  Yet these would also be the same people who would reject the film outright as a work of the devil.  It is about vampires, after all.  And it features a soundtrack with secular music.  And it is rated PG-13.  And (gasp!) its not super preachy or evangelistic.

Conservative and evangelical Christians tend to like “safe” movies that give a good message in a family-friendly way.  They also tend to make horrible movies.  I still remember sitting through a viewing of “Facing the Giants” with my youth group and feeling the need to deeply apologize for what a stupid film it was.  That movie–and others like it–will never attract the kind of rabid fans or widespread influence that these Mormon vampires will.

If evangelicals, fundamentalists, and other conservative Christians could get over their fears in this area, they might just have a chance to speak into the culture in a way that wasn’t so stilted and out of touch.  However modern reviewers may feel about the stilted romance in the Twilight films and books, they are anything but out of touch.

P.S.  Forget Twilight.  Next week my youth ministry class will be discussing a superior piece of young adult fiction (and a forthcoming movie) that has the potential for some powerful youth ministry reflection:  The Hunger Games.  Be excited.  Be very excited.


5 comments on “Twilight: A Fundamentalist’s Dilemma

  1. Crow T Robot says:

    Stupid vampire movies.
    I, like you felt the same way about ‘safe’ Christian films. But the new one, ‘Courageous’ is very good. Worth a shot. Better than these Twilight train wrecks on film.

  2. “Courageous”, eh? Hmm…on your recommendation, I’ll take a look. But I have to tell you, watching Twilight (the first movie) with the Rifftrax is one of the most hilarious experiences I’ve had. Worth every minute!

  3. brianegelston says:

    Kudos to Twilight for the “family values” aspect you mentioned above. I read through the books when my youth group kids were really into them, though, and I was disturbed by the undercurrent of control issues. Bella feels like she has to be really careful around both vampire dude and werewolf dude, lest either lose control and do something to hurt her. It’s a little to close to an enabling of abusive relationships for me to be entirely comfortable. Speaking of screwy relationships, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Hunger Games. I’ve been trying to process the trilogy myself.

  4. Brian-

    Believe me when I’m saying I didn’t and don’t like these books/movies. Bella is such a strange character. She is very passive in a lot of ways, and then she’s off making life and death decisions at the seeming drop of a hat. How long does she know this guy before she decides she wants to give her life away? Is this a good idea?

    Hadn’t thought too much about the abusive angle. Very interesting.

    Re: Hunger Games. It’s up for discussion all next week in my “Foundations for Youth Ministry” class. We’ll be cycling through three questions vis-a-vis the first book: 1) Where are we (how the book speaks to/reflects our culture and today’s adolescence) 2) Where is God (what theological issues and principles does it raise), and 3) What do we do with this? (how do we as youth ministers and practical theologians work with this).

    Class discussion on M/W/F, blogging the results on T/R/S.

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