With arts and entertainment, so much is left to subjective opinion that critical analysis, ripe as it is with talk of form, style, tone, and quality, ultimately comes down to the simple question: “Did I like it or not?” With that in mind, I begin by stating that I am not in the target demographic for the vampire-romance Twilight series, brainchild of LDS author Stephanie Myers. Its intended audience is apparently adolescent females (the bulk of the narrative focus is on a high school romance); I am well aware, of course, that the series has been enormously successful in other circles (my sisters, all married mothers in their 20’s and 30’s, are huge fans, as are several men I know).
The enormous success of the books, as well as the staggering box-office of the first movie (upwards of $70 million grossed on the opening weekend) have ensured the series a “pop-culture phenomenon” status, thrusting Myers, and her Mormon faith, into the international spotlight. With Twilight’s emphasis on passionate love and gothic vampires, some Latter-Day Saints have voiced concern for the series’ influence on youth as well as on public opinion towards the Church. Others have praised the books’ emphasis on premarital chastity, self-control, overcoming a fallen nature, and protective love, viewing Myers as a fine public figure to influence outside opinion of the Church and its members.
While I normally take little interest in adolescent romance in media, I’m always curious about popular public figures who happen to be LDS. Steven R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Gladys Knight with the Saints Unified Voices, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series, Jared and Jerusha Hess’s Napolean Dynamite, Steve Young’s professional career, Donny Osmond’s entertaining, and Mitt Romney’s campaign have all put the Church in the limelight, and by and large I feel that these people do far more good than harm. Sister Myers’ work interested me on that level. Wanting to give my own educated opinion, both on the controversy and on the quality of the new film itself (I have not read the books), I entered the theatre with two loyal friends and, apparently, the entire Young Women’s/Relief Society program of Provo.
Having seen the film itself, I can only say that whether you find it offensive or inspiring will depend entirely on your personal values. However, one argument that I would dismiss right away is that “the film contains vampires and is thus categorically evil.” One of the strengths of the story is in Edward (the romantic lead) and his family’s denial of their primal vampire instincts, in favor of a more harmless lifestyle. They hunt animals even though they desire human blood, because they value life and peace. Far from glorifying a violent lifestyle, Twilight abdicates a message similar to that of Mosiah 3:19, of putting off what comes naturally (when those natural instincts are harmful) and of choosing a higher morality. Instead of using his powers to hurt, Edward uses them to protect. His family are vampires, yes, but they are also a caring family with great integrity.
Also of potential concern is the definitely sensual side of Bella and Edward’s romance: there is obvious sexual tension between the teenage characters. However, anyone who has ever been a teenager knows that strong attraction is part and parcel of the adolescent experience, and it is to Twilight’s credit that the characters exercise restraint. “I don’t want to lose control with you,” says Edward, backing away after a passionate kiss with Bella. Furthermore, the passion is balanced with genuine care, concern, and tender friendship by both characters. In this sense, Myers deftly acknowledges that while sexual attraction is a factor in romance, it can be controlled while other relational aspects are developed, echoing Alma’s counsel to “bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love” (Alma 38:12). That realistic and frank admission, in my opinion, is far more helpful to today’s youth than pretending that passion isn’t in their makeup or is something to be ashamed of. It is merely something wonderful to save and to share in the appointed time (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Based on the first film, I’d say that the Twilight series could have a positive effect on adolescent morality.
However, the concerns are not entirely without merit, and parents should know that the film contains a handful of mild profanities and innuendos, a fairly cleavage-revealing prom dress, and a brief make-out scene. The vampire attacks by the villains are off-camera and thus not graphic, though a scene in which an evil vampire is disposed of is surprisingly so (and even the good vampires seem to have only minor qualms about killing a dangerous enemy in non-combat). All in all, Twilight isn’t a film I would dissuade adolescents from seeing; rather, I’d use it as a springboard for discussion.
MY TAKE ON THE FILM
That all being said, I personally didn’t care for the film very much. I completely understand why it is beloved by those who love it, and far be it from me to insult anyone’s personal tastes. However, the bulk of the film is made up of the longing gazes and calculated “sweet” or “weak-at-the-knees-romantic” moments that only teenage girls, or those who have ever been teenage girls, could truly appreciate, and I say this as someone who generally likes romantic movies! There was very little for me to relate to in this film: it seemed determined to make me swoon over an adolescent vampire and little else. My point is, if this type of film appeals to you, you’ll likely enjoy it. If it doesn’t, there’s no reason to rush out to the theatre. Unlike Harry Potter, with its grand themes and rich characters, what you see on the surface of Twilight is exactly what you get.