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Twilight as Pro-Chastity Propaganda

As a man in my 20s, there are plenty of folks in my age range who approach me regarding Twilight and ask, “…who in the world likes this crap?” It’s a definitively generational craze, and it’s astonishing to think that some experts believe New Moon could sell as many tickets as Iron Man, when 85% of the population above the age of 25 just simply doesn’t get it. However, after watching it last night, it now clicks. Please note that I have not read the books nor do I know what happens later in the series; I am judging solely the first movie on its own merit. I surmise that the Twilight series is an extended metaphor where a vampire’s lust for human blood, which is always affiliated symbolically with sex throughout the history of fiction, represents a teenager’s rush of hormones and physical desires, yet the outcome of giving in to this lust is an eternal life of damnation and become a violent machine prone to frenzy at a moment’s notice. It’s a film in which sex, metaphorically speaking, is the villain.

Let’s examine the basic plot of the love story, shall we? We follow an angsty teen girl (Kristen Stewart, reigning queen of angst) who moves to a new town and has no friends. Certainly feelings of isolation resonate with any teenager, so the new town setting merely adds to the weight of this feeling. She has a very intense lab partner named Edward (Robert Pattinson, whose stare is so intense it borders on self-parody) who is alluring to her. She begins to have feelings for him, and she believes she is starting to dream about him. In one moment, he literally saves her life, which merely intensifies her feelings that he is special and her life is more rich with him in it. There’s one problem– he’s flighty, continually backing off if she gets too close to him or if her fragrance blows in his general direction. He admits that he has a great desire to touch her, but he knows that by doing so, it will send him into an uncontrollable frenzy, which would result in either her death or a drastic life change for the worse. They talk about their passionate love for the ages, they remain in close proximity, and he even tries kissing her a couple of times… but for the most part, while physical desire exists between the two of them, they know that restraining themselves is for the best.

Before I continue, let me say that I didn’t hate the movie, not by a longshot. While the characters are rather one-note and the special effects are of the quality of a made-for-SciFi Channel film, Catherine Hardwicke establishes a familiar high school setting, and keeps all of the non-vampiric elements of the film quite naturalistic. I was at times more entertained by the regular teens Mike (Michael Welch) and Jessica (Anna Kendricks) than I was the Cullens. There’s a scene in which Mike very sweetly asks Bella to prom, and I was so put off by the awkwardness of Edward up to that point, I wondered why there was only a Team Edward and Team Jacob, no Team Mike. Taylor Lautner is a very easygoing Jacob, and he shares a natural chemistry with Stewart. When it comes to Stewart and Pattinson, their performances fluctuate to put it nicely: at the beginning, Stewart’s performance fits the bill, but as Bella begins to express more passion, her monotone delivery doesn’t properly convey the idea. Pattinson, on the other hand, is laughable when he first steps on the screen, but as the film progresses, I became more used to his stylistic portrayal, and certainly he expresses that deep longing more convincingly than Stewart does.

The deep longing is the core of the film– the fight against the lust they have in order to maintain the purity of the love they feel. Examine the scene in which Edward is in Bella’s room, and he tries to kiss her. They share a couple of slow kisses, then start getting more passionate, and he lies on top of her in the bed. It’s a highly sex-charged moment, the culmination of all of their feelings and desires leading to this snowball effect in the bedroom. However, unlike in most films, where the consummation of their love would be cheered, here Edward jumps off of Bella quickly. He acknowledges that it was difficult for him to do that. She agrees, making the parallel between the lust for blood and the lust for sex crystal clear. How many bedroom scenes between teenagers who both have expressed a desire for the other result in a montage of them talking? I imagine this is a large reason why parents don’t object to purchasing the series or its paraphernalia for their children, yet children don’t find it outright square– it refuses to hide the fact that teenagers do lust for one another, while still expressing that the “safe” decision is restraint.

The author, Stephenie Meyer, doesn’t seem to be saying that there is any problem with feeling lust– it’d be a lie to attempt to say teenagers don’t. The dialogue in the film is chock full of statements of intense longing. “I hate you for making me want you so much,” Edward tells Bella at one point in the film. He’s a hero who not only has intense lust, but deep pangs of guilt, since he knows his urges conflict with his morals. He also could have had any girl, as Jessica says at the beginning, but he’s been keeping away, waiting for the right girl. He tells her, “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for you.” The reality is that most teens do put a value on lust, and aren’t interested in passing their special experience off to the first interested party. Usually the boys are seen as the sole instigators of lust in movies such as this (and sure enough, there is a stereotypical gang of drunk, rape-happy townies at one point), but the smart thing that Meyer does is acknowledge the desires of a teenage girl– typically a taboo in Hollywood. She provides temptation without being a floozy, since she feels she’s been waiting for a guy like him as well. “I don’t have the strength to stay away from you anymore,” he tells her. “Then don’t,” she replies, in a line that normally would lead to a bedroom montage of embraces and undressing. In fact, in most films, a movie where a guy and girl know that they love each other would approve of consummation to some degree, cheering for it. Here, even teens happily in love find that it’s better to wait.

They go through the film, continuing to moon over one another and fall deeper in love, even full well knowing physical intimacy will never come into the equation. “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb,” Edward says heavyhandedly. “What a stupid lamb,” Bella responds. “What a sick, masochistic lion,” Edward counters. Some would argue against the effectiveness of a pro-chastity message in a film where the characters understand that not giving in is a sick, dangerous, and at times unsatisfying game. The teenage girls which make up the fanbase of the series certainly share Bella’s lustful feelings for Robert Pattinson, and would undoubtedly cheer if they consummated their love. The fact of the matter remains that teenage girls do have newfound physical desires, and there would be no way to effectively promote waiting to satisfy them while denying that girls have these feelings without repelling the core audience. To deny that young people feel this way at all is simply ignorant, and any type of promoted agenda in politics or art that try to use this point come across as out of touch. Strangely enough, it’s because teenagers find truth in these ridiculous melodramatic characters and the feelings and urges they’re having that makes them such big fans… and consequently, Meyer’s subtle agenda acknowledging that it’s okay to have desire as long as you don’t give in slips into the subconscious of impressionable readers and viewers everywhere.

Once again, this is based solely on one movie– I have no idea which direction the series is headed. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Edward and Jacob exchange words for the first time, hinting at the massive conflict that is bound to occur. Hardwicke sets this up effectively as being an epic rivalry for the ages, so when they inevitably butt heads, there’s going to be a real weight to the battle. However, the real battle is still the desire between Edward and Bella, and how that desire will affect their relationship. Bella still wants Edward to give in, so that she can live forever damned but at least be able to satisfy her desire. Edward refuses to do so, proper gentleman that he is. The final words of the film aren’t about Edward vs. Jacob, they’re about this conflict, as Bella narrates, “No one will surrender tonight, but I won’t give in. I know what I want.” The series could have Bella succumb in the very next chapter for all I know, but it doesn’t change that Meyer began her series by rooting her characters in firm moral dilemma. The villains give into every urge, and the hero and his family shows restraint. The effectiveness of the propaganda is certainly up for debate, but I would postulate that it’s more effective to not patronize teenagers and acknowledge that their pubescent raging hormones will feel strong desires, strong emotions… strong everything, because when you’re a teenager, life is a melodrama. No teen will turn down a request for intimate action by stating, “No thanks, Edward waited, so can we.” But if you look, the pro-chastity message is plain as day. Meyer (herself a devout Mormon) has tapped into something that teenagers relate to and appreciate, and the moral conflict of finding love while fighting lust is the heart of the matter. I mean, Doctor Cullen only uses his vampirism on another human when necessary, and when he does, he emerges with another “child.” Is this really a coincidence?

* credit goes to the good people of Pass The Popcorn for contributing to many talking points in this article *

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~ by russellhainline on November 20, 2009.

3 Responses to “Twilight as Pro-Chastity Propaganda”

  1. Fantastic review!

  2. That was extremely facinating. And I agree with you entirely. I still found it hard to believe an almost 100 year old vampire had never once tried sex, but when you put that spin on it…it makes sense. Nicely done. 🙂

  3. […] admire the effectiveness of Meyer’s pro-virginity propaganda, which I previously wrote about here. Here is a female character that most teen girls will relate to. She experiences independent sexual […]

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