Reviewed by Bill McKeever
Let me begin this review by making two confessions. 1) I haven’t read any of the books by Stephenie Meyer, and 2) had Meyer not been LDS, I doubt if I would have ever had any desire to see Twilight, a film based on the first of her four novels (The others include New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn).
As a person with a Christian worldview, I personally find fascination with the “undead” a bit unsettling. Reanimated dead people who normally sleep in coffins during the day, cannot be exposed to sunlight, and seek nourishment by sucking the blood of hapless human victims, don’t usually fit my definition of good guys or heroes. And even if this type of literary genre appealed to me, I don’t think anyone could ever take the place of Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó (Bela Legosi). After all, what’s a vampire without a thick Hungarian accent?
Stephenie Meyer, a graduate from Brigham Young University, and a member of the LDS Church (who happens to give her main character the name Bella), seems to want to update old stereotypes by giving us a modern rendition of what makes (or breaks) vampires. For instance, you won’t hear any mention of wooden stakes in this film.
The film opens with a Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) voiceover, “I’ve never given much thought to how I would die. But dying in the place of someone I love seems like a good way to go.” While this clearly sounds like a reference to John 15:13 (Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends), the role this thought played in the film seemed to me to be minuscule compared to what I perceived to be the main plot.
Bella is a high-school teenager who leaves her home in Phoenix to move in with her father in the small, often overcast town of Forks, Washington. As the town’s chief of police, her father is involved in the investigation of two strange murders that are at first believed to be caused by animals.
Bella is quick to meet friends at her new high school, but she is unusually attracted to the aloof and pale-skinned Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who happens to sit next to her in her biology class. For the better part of a very long hour, Bella attempts to befriend the mysterious classmate, which of course, eventually takes place. But almost immediately she starts to notice that Edward has other strange characteristics besides skin similar to that of the Pillsbury doughboy. His eyes change color, he has supernatural strength, is cold to the touch, and for some strange reason, he skips school whenever the sun is out. (Oh, and did I mention that he drives a very nice car?) She starts to put these clues together, and thanks to the wonder of the Internet (and Google in particular), she discovers that she has become infatuated with a full-blown vampire that appears to be perpetually-seventeen-years-old.
She confronts Edward about what she has found, but despite some of the gruesome things she’s read on the Web, she is not at all afraid. After all, Edward is a nice guy who not only shows her attention, he also has an uncanny way of showing up when she is about to be physically harmed. He explains that unlike some vampires, he is part of a small “family” of vampires that feed on animal blood, rather than the blood of humans (Whew! That makes me feel better!), but laments that he has killed in the past. He then takes her on his back in order to demonstrate his supernatural speed and ability to climb pine trees faster than a spider monkey (Who would have known?). He also dispels the old myth that vampires are destroyed when exposed to sunlight. In Stephenie Meyer’s world, vampires merely glisten like “diamonds” when exposed to the sun. This explains why Edward and his Cullen siblings play hooky when Forks experiences cloudless days.
As I mentioned earlier, Stephenie Meyer’s association with the LDS Church is the reason I watched Twilight. She has been described as a new J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and her books have been extremely popular among fans from all age groups. In an interview with CNN International she explains how the story line came to her in a dream. The film version of Twilight was given a PG-13 rating though that didn’t seem to stop several mothers from bringing their very young children to watch the film. When asked by Time.com “Do you feel that you are a good representative of your religion?” Meyer answered, “Being Mormon is a big part of who I am, and I try very hard to live the right way, but I don’t know that I’m an example. I hate to say, ‘Yes, look at me. I’m a good example of being Mormon.’ I want to be the best person I can be, so in that aspect, maybe I’m a good example.”
This is not to say that the books have not caused controversy. Some Christian parents wonder what good can come from a story of forbidden love between a hormonal teenage girl and a guy who has been technically dead for nearly a century. Others who have read the series told me that the content is definitely inappropriate for young children. Though there was no hint at all of Meyer’s Mormonism in the film, there were some scenes that Christian parents might not want their daughters to emulate. In the CNN interview Meyer states that “there’s a lot more light in my books than darkness. You need the darkness for the contrast, but it’s really about the light.” In the film version, Bella comes across as the one with the least amount of self-control. At one point she is willing to allow Edward to take away her mortality with a simple bite to the neck, thereby allowing her to share her life with him as he is. But let’s be practical, if he did that, there would be no sequel.