By Steven D. Greydanus
Storming the box office following a No. 1 opening weekend, "Twilight"" is clearly a force to be reckoned with. According to analyst Gitesh Pandya of the website Box Office Guru, "Twilight" will likely wind up with total earnings comparable to the new James Bond film "Quantum of Solace." That's remarkable for a movie that caters particularly to teenaged and young-adult women ... and their moms.
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("The Nativity Story," "Thirteen"), "Twilight" enjoyed the biggest opening of any film directed by a woman, and it is also the top-earning vampire film in history.
Fan enthusiasm for the "Twilight" novels by Stephenie Meyer is no less impressive. Once upon a time, only Harry Potter generated the same kind of bookstore frenzy -- and in fact it was the third "Twilight" novel, "Eclipse," that bumped the final Harry Potter novel from the top of the best-seller lists last year.
Perhaps even more than over Harry Potter, Catholic opinion is sharply divided on "Twilight." Chastity blogger Kate Bryan of The Modest Truth speaks for the stories' fans when she calls "Twilight" a "love story that promote[s] chastity, among other virtues."
But the Catholic blog Spes Unica, written by a Catholic mother with a master's in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, argues that "Twilight" "taps into a particular vulnerability in women and then provokes a certain obsessive response. ... These books merely extend the pornographic mentality of which they are both victims and willing participants."
As Bryan notes, resisting temptation does play a significant theme in the story. Vampire hero Edward Cullen falls in love with mortal girl Bella Swan, but resists his desire to drink her blood. Edward belongs to a vampire clan that practices what they facetiously call "vegetarianism," meaning that they subsist on animal blood rather than human. By the fourth volume, Edward and Bella are married, and Meyer -- a Mormon housewife and mother of three -- has said it was important to her that they remain sexually abstinent until marriage.
Yet Spes Unica rightly notes the series' disturbing twist on the theme of temptation and self-restraint. Where the real virtue of chastity involves abstaining from something that is good in itself under the wrong circumstances, vampiric abstinence merely repudiates a wholly selfish, one-way desire. Man and woman are made for each other, but vampires don't complete humans, any more than a tiger completes an impala.
Even Edward and Bella seem aware of this, as in an exchange in which Edward suggests that their relationship is like a lion falling in love with a lamb -- a "sick, masochistic lion," he adds, and a "stupid lamb," Bella agrees. Yet neither the couple nor the author is serious about the critique. It's all part of "Twilight's" hopeless romanticism: How very much Edward and Bella must love one another, to carry on like this when it obviously makes no sense whatsoever.
Not only is the vampiric element obviously disordered, the ordinary boy-girl attraction is given free rein. Above all, "Twilight" emphasizes Edward's beauty and desirability as well as the intensity of his unfulfilled passion for Bella. A typically breathless passage: "He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare." (Meyer's vampires literally glitter in sunlight, a detail both much celebrated and derided.)
Elsewhere, in a fit of passion, Edward tells Bella, "I'm going to spontaneously combust one of these days -- and you'll have no one but yourself to blame." Such narrative lingering on the intoxicating power of temptation and desire, such rhapsodizing about the beauty of forbidden fruit, may reasonably be felt to be less an affirmation of self-mastery than a hindrance to it.
There are positive elements in the appeal of "Twilight," but they're inextricably intertwined with the problematic ones. Its popularity may be in part a symptom of dissatisfaction with the hookup culture of shamelessness and male gratification. But it's also a symptom of a larger crisis of healthy masculinity and feminity. In any culture that taught young men to treat women with honor and dignity, and young women to respect themselves and to expect the same from others, the tawdry allure of Meyer's vampires wouldn't glitter half so brightly.
Steven D. Greydanus is a film critic and editor of www.decentfilms.com.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs