The highly anticipated third film in the wildly popular Twilight series opens today. Twilight was named one of Publishers Weekly's Best Children's Books of 2005. The novel was also the biggest selling book of 2008. To date, it has sold almost 20 million copies worldwide, spent over 91 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and been translated into 37 different languages. The first two movies—Twilight and New Moon—took in a sensational $1.1 billion at the box office. In 2009 and 2010, the movies topped the teen choice awards, and swept virtually all the categories at the MTV Movie Awards. Twilight has become the hottest love story of our time. It's a teen rage, and a significant cultural phenomenon.
The question that I always ask, when I see something so grip the hearts and minds of women, is "Why?". And it was this question that was foremost in my mind when I finally sat down a couple weeks ago to watch and analyze the first two movies.
Personally, I could barely stomach the prolonged furtive glances, pained expressions, and shallow, banal dialogue that passed between Edward and Bella. But setting that aside, I think I understand the story's attraction to young teen girls.
To begin, the saga portrays "traditional" roles for male and female at a time when it is highly counter-cultural to do so. Bella isn't a male-kicking, karate-chopping, independent, domineering heroine. She's gentle, soft, and vulnerable. Her character flies in the face of the tough-girl image that's portrayed by most contemporary movies. I think young girls intuitively know that the prevalent portrayal of women as tough doesn't match who they are. The average teen senses that she's not wired that way. She longs to be the princess in a traditional fairy tale romance. She wants to be a woman. And she wants a man to be a man.
A young woman intuitively yearns for someone who will pursue her, protect her, and cherish her beauty and vulnerability. She yearns for a man to love her at a deep personal and emotional level—and not just a physical, sexual one. Regardless of culture's attempts at egalitarian brainwashing, the man of her dreams is still a strong, handsome prince charming who fights for her, and rescues her. He loves her, commits to her, and selflessly sets aside personal interest for the sake of her best interest.
Edward fits the bill.
It's not surprising that young girls are falling for him. But sadly, their enthusiasm for being the leading lady in a heart-gripping romance lacks discernment. The movie grips them at such a deep emotional level that they shrug off the glaring warnings that indicate that this particular relationship is unhealthy. It's a counterfeit version of a fairy-tale romance. It looks good and attractive on the surface, but the underlying darkness in Edward will most certainly lead to disaster for Bella. It may go well for a time, but in the end, it will kill her. She's playing with fire, and she's going to get burned.
If Bella were my daughter, several alarm bells would be going off in my head about her relationship with Edward. I would not approve. Regardless of how "in love" she felt, I would argue that this romance was not good for her, and would not end well. It would ultimately be bad and not good for her soul. There are some very clear danger signs in their relationship that I would flag:
1. Bad Boy Attraction
Edward has a dark side. A very dark side. Twilight author, Stephenie Meyer, has stated that the apple on the cover represents the forbidden fruit from the Book of Genesis. It symbolizes Bella and Edward's love, which is forbidden, similar to the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as implied by the quote from Genesis 2:17 at the beginning of the book. The apple also represents Bella's knowledge of what good and evil are, and the choice that she must make. She must decide if she's going to indulge in a relationship with Edward-the "forbidden fruit"—or to stay away from him. There's something about the "forbidden fruit" of a relationship with a bad boy that attracts young women. I would warn my daughter that this attraction is deceptive, and very, very dangerous.
2. Shared Dark Secrets
A second sign of a bad relationship is when a young woman feels she must keep something about her relationship or love interest hidden and secret—especially from her parents. A shared dark secret forms a bond that is unhealthy. It puts up a barrier to prevent the loving scrutiny and helpful input of family and friends. It prevents people from offering outside objective feedback. Darkness loves to remain hidden. If something needs to be hidden, then the relationship is likely bad. I would tell Bella that if she could not be completely open with us about who Edward was, or what the two of them were doing together, then the relationship was probably ungodly and unhealthy and needed to end.
3. "Us" versus "Them" Mentality
An "us versus them" mentality is another warning sign. Whenever a woman feels that "no one understands" and that she needs to "side" with her boyfriend against family and friends, chances are that the relationship is not a good one. When Bella started dating Edward, she felt that it was the two of them fighting against all odds, and against all the naysayers that wouldn't approve. The two of them were going to overcome all the obstacles, and prove that they were right, and everyone else was wrong. This is a danger sign. If you feel like you need to choose sides—to side with a love interest against your family, and hunker down together "us" against "them"—the relationship probably isn't a healthy one.
4. Isolation and Seclusion
Isolation and seclusion is another mark of an unhealthy relationship. If an unmarried young man and woman spend most their time together alone—apart from family and friends, their relationship isn't healthy. Healthy relationships are forged in the context of community. If a love interest isolates you from family and friends, and interferes with you building and maintaining other relationships, then that relationship is not good for you. Bella had very few relationships outside of Edward. The two of them became loners that stuck to one another, spent the bulk of their free time together, and didn't develop healthy community connections.
5. Mismatched Interests and Values
The thing that concerns me the most about the Twilight saga is the underlying message that it's possible to mix light and dark—good and bad—together. That's a concept that's reflected in the title of the series. "Twilight" is the period of dimness that exists when the light is growing weaker, and the darkness is growing stronger. But the book's message is that with a bit of effort on everyone's part, dark and light can be mixed together-a state of twilight can exist forever. And indeed, many young Christian girls think that this is the case. They think that daughters of light can hang out with, hook up with, and even marry sons of darkness.
The problem is that the vampire, Edward, has no soul. He is darkness. He is irredeemable—he can't change. He will eternally, immortally be a slave of darkness. But Bella is human. She has a soul. Tragically, because of her association with Edward, she is in danger of losing it. They are mismatched. The clear message of the Bible is that light has no business pairing up with darkness. Ultimately, light and darkness cannot coexist. Darkness and light cannot come together as one.
I would warn Bella against a spiritual mismatch. I would also warn her against the mismatch in their ages (he's 110, she's 17… really???!!!), their education (he's gone to school for decades, she isn't even finished high school), their cultural upbringing (He drinks blood, she doesn't. She eats food, he doesn't.), and their values (He is a vampire, after all. Even though he's "nice," he still engages in vampire-ish and occultist practices—just like "nice" white witches are still involved in witchcraft, and nice cocaine addicts still have an addiction to cocaine.).
A severe mismatch does not lend itself well to a good, lasting marriage. This is particularly the case when the mismatch is one of spiritual darkness versus light.
6. Neediness and Obsession
Bella is needy. She's obsessed with Edward. He is all she thinks about. When Edward breaks up with her, she sinks into a deep depression. She feels she can't live without him. The movie implies that she becomes suicidal. She throws herself off a cliff and tries to drown in order to connect with Edward. She cares about Edward more than she cares about her relationship with God, and more than she cares about her life. She's entirely willing to forfeit her soul for her need of Edward.
Edward is also needy. He stalks Bella and watches her continually. He even sneaks into her room and watches her while she sleeps. He shows up in her head in visions and speaks to her. (In my opinion, it's downright creepy.)
I would warn Bella against neediness. I'd tell her that if she feels so desperate for Edward that she can't live without him, then learning to live without him is the very thing she most needs to do. I would warn her not to rely on men for her sense of self-worth, identity, or happiness. I would tell her that the only one she truly needs is Jesus. And in order to have a healthy marriage, she needs to work on cultivating inner strength and wholeness, based on a personal relationship with Christ. A needy relationship is bad news. Needy women go through a revolving door of relationships, from one "Edward" to the next. I would want Bella to know that there is no man on the face of this earth that will meet the deep desires of her heart. Only Jesus can do that.
7. Rationalization and Justification
Another sign of a bad relationship is when a woman feels the need to rationalize and justify it. Bella rationalized being in a relationship with a vampire. She reasoned that since he was such a nice vampire, and was trying really hard to behave, and restrained his desire to bite and kill her, that somehow his niceness and self-control and love made their relationship okay. She rationalized the lies, deceit, and compromise by thinking that it was all for the greater good. She self-importantly thought that she was helping him. She was the only one who truly understood him and the only one who could give him the love he needed. She was the only one who completely accepted him and saw the good in him. She rationalized things so that she could convince herself that her bad boy wasn't really all that bad.
But a vampire is a vampire. Bella cannot give a vampire a soul and make him human. No amount of rationalization on her part can justify their relationship or the risk she is exposing herself to. A good relationship doesn't require rationalization and justification. It is self-evident that it is good.
8. Failure to Seek & Heed Input
Bella doesn't confide in her parents about the nature of her relationship with Edward. Nor does she seek counsel from any other friends or family. When her father tries to give her some advice, she shrugs it off as inconsequential. She knows better. No one else understands.
If Bella were my daughter, I'd notice these danger signs, and I'd warn her loudly and clearly about falling for a counterfeit version of true romance. I'd worry. I'd pray. I'd ask the Lord to break it up. Because although Edward is cute and seems so nice, he's undeniably dangerous.
In the real world, the Bellas who fall for the Edwards usually don't live happily ever after. In the real world, twilight turns to night. In the real world, far too many parents watch the light in their precious Bellas grow dim, and slowly be engulfed by darkness.
I am perplexed by Christians who uphold Twilight as a desirable model for dating or relationships. I don't understand why believing mothers fail to discern the good from the bad, and fail to discuss the deception in the Twilight message with their daughters. Bella had an absentee mother. And sadly, that's the case with many young women today.
Yes, I know, it's just a movie. But it's not an innocuous message. It contains an oh-so-subtle temptation for our daughters to throw caution to the wind and give their hearts away to bad boys-to think that good and bad are relative and don't really matter-to take the Twilight apple in hand, become enamored with the deceptive promise it holds, and to carelessly indulge.
NOTE: A few people have corrected me on the cliff-diving scene. I was basing my impression on the movie. I haven't read the book. In the movie, Bella was obviously in a state of depression when she went to the cliff alone, so it appeared to both me and my husband (and my sons too) that she was attempting suicide. (Apparently, the book gives an alternate explanation) But even if we misinterpreted that movie scene, that doesn't negate the fact that Bella was needy and obsessive about Edward, and that neediness and obsession are marks of an unhealthy relationship. I came at this blog from the perspective of "If I were Bella's mom…"
Whether moms allow daughters to watch the movie is a personal decision, but hopefully my points will provide a framework for discussion, so that those who do watch it will do so with discernment.
© Mary A. Kassian, Girls Gone Wise. Visit Mary's Website at: GirlsGoneWise.com. Used with permission. All rights reserved.