The "Twilight" Movie: Redefining "Natural" by Means of the Supernatural

The lowdown on Twilight: if you liked the book, you’ll most likely enjoy the movie. If you didn’t like the book, you won’t like the movie. If you have never read the book, you’ll probably be confused by the movie.

For those of us who liked the book but were not blind to its flaws, the movie actually presents some improvements. The pace is faster, and the movie introduces the villains—evil vampires who, unlike Edward Cullen and his family, drink human blood and dress like hippies—much earlier by showing the death and mayhem that follows in their wake. I thought that the movie would have been more interesting if it hadn’t immediately shown who was responsible for the killings, leaving Bella (and, theoretically, the viewer) with the suspicion that Edward was guilty. Unfortunately, I was not consulted.

The movie version also brings out an aspect present in the novel, but often ignored: the sad truth that high school boys generally act like monkeys. (Not that the girls, with their gossip-and-dress obsession, are much better.) The antics of Bella’s peers highlight one of the reasons she falls for Edward: he’s the first teenage (sort-of) boy she’s met who’s at her level of maturity. Their conversations occur in high school, but not of it: it’s as if they occupy a completely different sphere of reality when they begin to talk to each other.

However, in spite of her relative maturity, Bella still is a teenager, and one of the greatest improvements of the movie over the book is that we don’t have to hear Bella’s first-person gushings about Edward and all his beautiful beautifulness. Stephenie Meyer captures a teenage girl’s voice remarkably accurately, which is both the strength and weakness of Twilight the novel. In Twilight the movie, we (at least those of us who are over 18 and are not smitten with Robert Pattinson) get to see Edward a little more objectively. Part of this is probably due to Pattinson’s determination to portray Edward’s self-loathing, which is necessary in order to make him more than just a pretty-boy who likes to drink blood. Unfortunately, Pattinson also seems to have practiced his American accent by watching old Marlon Brando movies, so he lacks the mellifluous tones that are supposed to draw Bella to Edward.

Because I’ve always found Edward the more interesting character in the Twilight series (according to “Which Twilight character are you?” quiz, I am Edward), I’ve been following how various movie reviewers have reacted to him and his abstinence from both blood and sex. While some have patted themselves on the back for reaching the stunning and insightful conclusion that drinking or not drinking blood is a metaphor for sex (Have they never before seen or read anything featuring vampires? Ever?), others are repulsed by Edward’s restraint. New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis calls Edward a “bore” because of his insistence on keeping “his fangs in his mouth.” Now, I’m not upset with her conclusion that Edward is a bore, but I’m disturbed by her reasons for reaching that conclusion: apparently anyone who doesn’t act on his or her impulses is boring. She lambasts Edward for recoiling from Bella’s advances “like a distraught Victorian”—which, since he was born in 1901, he technically is, though his formative years would have been during the Edwardian (yep) era. Dargis scolds Twilight for what she sees as its message: “that there actually is something worse than death, especially for teenagers: sex.”

Of course, if Dargis were familiar with the whole Twilight series, she’d find that this isn’t the message at all—sex between married couples is rather emphatically celebrated—but that’s not her responsibility as the movie reviewer, so I won’t fault her for that. However, her disgust with Edward’s abstinence is so strong, as if self-restraint is somehow unnatural and . . . inhuman. Edward, however, controls himself around Bella because he doesn’t want to kill her; he wants to be human and not the monster he believes he is. What Twilight illustrates for me is that maybe it’s “natural”—as well as sexy—to try to live a life according to one’s higher nature—one’s created human nature, good as God intended it to be. As Christians, we know that Christ has already declared us clean, and that God’s grace can enable us to gradually conform to what he has already said we are. This is what Edward lacks, and why he is a bit, as he himself admits, “sick and masochistic.” But, really, what’s more “natural”—to aspire to a better way of life or to sneer at all such striving?

More than anything else about Twilight, I’m interested in how it serves as a cultural barometer. It’d be nice if the winds are changing, if instead of being told to “be yourself,” teens are now being told “there’s a better version of yourself to be.” Whether they can hear that message through all the squeals is another question.

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