Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Review: Twilight

WARNING: if you have not yet seen this movie, do not read further as there will be small spoilers.

The first I heard of Twilight, was about a year ago when my merch supplier cafepress struck a deal with the powers that be, to allow all shopkeepers to design Twilight movie promo gear. I looked at the offer and thought "uh... no thanks". I'm in the business of family friendly designs and merch, and somehow the whole "sulking teenage girls and pasty white vampire boys" scenario just doesn't fit into that genre. If you go to cafepress you'll see a prominantly featured portal on the front page taking you to numerous shopkeeper's shops, that have designed Twilight merch. There are some truly brilliant artists associated with cafepress and some of the designs are nothing short of incredible. It's still not family friendly, so it's just not my bag.

If you're someone who's still never heard of Twilight despite being clobbered with promo merchandise everywhere you go these days, here's the promo from the recently released dvd:

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) doesn’t expect much when she moves to the small town of Forks, Washington, until she meets the mysterious and handsome Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson)—a boy who’s hiding a dark secret: he’s a vampire. As their worlds and hearts collide, Edward must battle the bloodlust raging inside him as well as a coterie of undead that would make Bella their prey. Based on the #1 New York Times best-selling sensation by Stephenie Meyer, Twilight adds a dangerous twist to the classic story of star-crossed lovers.

Okay? So yes, it's a vampire story. It's a vampire story that primarily appeals to teenage girls, because it's a love story that appeals to teenage girls, that spans across a four book series, no less. That whole "falling for the bad boy" thing that takes place usually about the age of 15 is what essentially happens here. Other than sinful rebellion against what is good and right and wholesome, I won't even pretend to understand that whole falling for the bad boy deal, but a lot of us women went through it as teenagers, myself included. I can only surmise that because it's such a commonality among teens, young women and even older women that we always identify with it in at least some way, in a movie script or the plotline of a book. Thankfully, there are no vampires in my own personal stories of when I was young. A few knuckleheads, but no vampires. As far as I know, anyway.

In any event, Albert Mohler recently did a radio show about this whole Twilight phenom and asked the question "how should Christian families deal with this?" I'm paraphrasing on the question from the first part of the show, but the more direct question was "should the books be considered acceptable reading material for teenage girls?"

The movie just recently came out on dvd, so we rented it and watched last Friday. The funny thing was, until I watched it I had no idea it was based in Northwestern WA where I'm from. I never really payed much attention to all the hype about it before I watched it (nor did I read the books), so that fact was news to me when we sat down to watch it. The very fact that it was based in my stomping grounds and even mentioned Mason and Kitsap county (where I'm from) was sort of cool, I thought. The Pacific Northwest scenery was an added bonus for me personally.

Other than that, it was not really your typical teenager story (aside from the fact that Edward is a vampire). He's polite and well-mannered as he introduces himself to Bella's dad before their first date, and he informs Bella (once she puts two and two together) that he and his "family" are sort of like vegetarian vampires that only survive on the blood of animals because they don't like killing people. Rather considerate I'd say. Not very typical for vampires, at all.

So then other stuff happens and it's all very scary and tense and all that good stuff and soon you realize there will be a sequel. Well duh, of course there will be a sequel, we still have to get through New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn! (Books two through four... and rumors of book five, and maybe more). No doubt, this current fascination with Edward and Bella is just beginning - over the next few years I believe it will just grow and grow, much like the Harry Potter phenom. I just hope poor undead Edward the vegetarian vampire eventually gets a little color in his skin.

So back to Albert Mohler's question: should these books be considered appropriate reading material for teenage girls?

The short answer is no, the longer answer is far more complicated. If you're the Christian parent of teenaged kids, you already know how hard it is to combat culture's influence with your kids. The last thing you're going to want to do is go out and intentionally purchase something that you don't want influencing your kids, and then hand it to them. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but this is actually what some of the so-called "experts" actually recommend and what many parents actually do. I think that's playing with fire on mulitple levels and not the smartest approach at all.

With that said, if you're a Christian parent of teenaged kids you also already know that unless you lock the kids in a dark room some place, it is virtually impossible to keep negative social influences away from your kids.

One of the callers on the Albert Mohler show mentioned that her teenage daughter was already reading the books, so as the parent she decided to read them too to know what her daughter was reading. Good plan, as far as where I sit. This is a parent who used the opportunity to discuss reality and morality with her daughter, as her daughter was already consuming what culture has to offer. This is key here, and something we REALLY need to pay close attention to, because our kids are in fact already consuming what culture has to offer, even when we as the parents strictly forbid it. It's just the way it is, whether we like it or not. We can pretend they're not, and we can lull ourselves into a false sense of security because we've put our foot down on this movie or that cd or whatever, but the reality of it is, our kids (especially our teenagers) will make choices that go against what we know is best for them and what we as parents have allowed, and we need to know this. Now this is not to say that every single teenage kid of Christian parents will willfully disobey, but it IS to say that every single one of them will be tempted to, and the vast majority of them will give in to that temptation. Being a parent is a battlefield and so is being a teenager. Sometimes I think being a teenager in today's culture is even harder than being a parent. I certainly wouldn't want to go through those years again, especially with the way society has changed so much in the 30 years since I did it the first time.

You can take this for whatever it may be worth to you, but I think the woman who called the show did the right thing. She educated herself firsthand on what is current, popular and catching the eyes and ears of teenagers, and then she used it as an avenue for discussion. It's one thing to say "no, you cannot watch this" but it's entirely different thing to be able to say "and here's why" and then explain in as much detail as need be, the content of the medium.

I would not suggest allowing or providing these books (or the movies) for your teenagers, because I don't think they send the right message. However, as the parent I definitely do recommend you be educated on them and if that means reading the entire series, watching the movies or just doing very thorough research, then by all means do it. Not just for Twilight, but for whatever is coming down the pike in pop culture and aimed at the teen/tween/kid audience. It's a genuine battle trying to give our kids the right message and protect them from the garbage in the world, so doing whatever it takes to educate ourselves on it, is the thing to do.

As for the movie itself? I really wasn't all that impressed. I'm not sure how many ways you can do a vampire story before it all gets rather ho-hum after a while. As a 44 yr old mom I don't see this movie the way a 14 yr old girl might as I've had too many years of reality to be impressed in the same way. From all I've read recently, the first movie is sort of an innocent introduction to what eventually becomes a much darker story. I'm not sure how much darker you can make undead, blood sucking, former humans interacting with modern society and human/vampire relationships, but apparently you can.

In any case, those are my thoughts for whatever they're worth. I'm sure I'll watch the sequel when it comes out as well, the same way I've done with all the Harry Potter movies.

UPDATE: Rebekah at Sweet Tea with Lemon has also written a review on the book series that you might want to take a look at. I found her take on this very enlightening.

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