For anyone vaguely familiar with the Latter-day Saints, the many parallels between the Twilight Saga and the Church’s theology will be apparent.
As a mother of two and full-time secondary school teacher, I was adamant not to read the novels in spite of having been asked, begged and ordered a countless number of times this year, to do so, claiming I was far too busy. Nevertheless, as I have now seen both Twilight and The Twilight Saga: New Moon, I can not help but feel a slight sting of portentousness as I recognise I may have been somewhat rash to dismiss what is now a literary and cinematic phenomenon. Is it juvenile, hormonal, and pubescent diversion? Absolutely! However, its moral subtext is impossible to miss – more so in the sequel – and is a text worthy for analysis of how Christian ideology is portrayed in contemporary English literature. Having been subjected to serious doses of pathetic fallacy, Socratic irony and the author surrogate, through such literature as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, it is refreshing to find a text which engages today’s youth to those same concepts while retaining an unquestionably cool, sexy image.
Though many critics remain fixated on the story’s preoccupation with sexual abstinence, there is a myriad of other parallels which LDS youth can relate to. The narrative centres on the turbulent temptations of the archetypical Byronic hero – a hero who appears doomed to destruction, with a bleak, dystopian vision of a future he has created for himself in the realms of his own mind. However, he is slowly brought to believe that redemption is possible, even for an unworthy soul such as himself.
Latter-Day Saint theology, indeed the Plan of Salvation, outlines in no uncertain terms the concepts of redemption and free agency – the notion that all are “free to choose”, be it good or bad, right or wrong, life or death (see, for example, 2 Nephi). New Moon could not possibly be criticised for its lack of emphasis on choice and accountability, not only in the case of Edward (who is persistently fighting his inner demons in order to be a noble and virtuous man), but in the case of Jacob who surrenders to his werewolf nature. Bella’s remark to Jacob, “It’s not what you are, stupid, it’s what you do”, reinforces the idea that we are indeed capable of choosing our destinies and of ultimately becoming the person we want to be become, despite our innate natures.
The idea of sacrifice is expressed from the very beginning when Edward leaves to ensure Bella’s safety and thus is willing to give up the one person who gives meaning to his life. Moreover, the same notion is woven into the whole fabric of the plot through its blatant reference to Romeo and Juliet in the opening and closing passages of the film. Consequently, when towards the end of the story Edward believes Bella to be dead, he wishes to die himself. Unsurprisingly, when Bella discovers Edward to still be alive but in danger, she begs for his life in exchange for her own. Beneath the literary comparison lies the Christian concept of charity as exemplified through Jesus Christ. Thus, the idea of sacrifice and unconditional love are central themes in the narrative.
There were also some interesting parallels which many outside the Church may not have picked up on. I found the scene where the family unite to decide whether or not Bella should be converted rather amusing. What is not so humorous, however, are the unambiguous references to persecution and discrimination. Anyone acquainted with the history of the church will be aware of the prejudice faced by the early Saints. The continual need to move from place to place, unable to settle permanently for fear of harassment or death, was a major feature of the early Church. Intolerance towards LDS beliefs continues to some extent today. This is epitomised in the Cullens’ hasty departure from their home and explicitly stated on several occasions by Edward.
The most striking connection between the Twilight films and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, is its focus on sexual abstinence and on marriage – a philosophy which has received some negative press since the release of New Moon. In our society which is fundamentally defined by superficial values such as instant gratification and a glaringly outward definition of identity, I must question whether we can afford to flippantly ignore the messages of restraint and ‘peer resistance’ which Myer presents.
The students who watched the film with me did not appear to mind the lack of sex. On the contrary, they were rather touched by the old-fashioned romance which, by the way, is missing in most teen flicks of today. According to a friend who watched the film on the evening of its release, the last line delivered by Edward to Bella drew the biggest sigh, “I’ll change you on one condition…marry me, Bella.” I could not help but notice the manner in which the question was pre-fixed by the word “forever”. This line, to me, epitomises Latter-day Saint ideology on the family and purpose of life in a nutshell.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon is not a unique story in any way, shape or form. As a film, it does not boast any awe-inspiring cinematic genius. So what does make these films as popular as they are? I can’t attribute it to the irresistible good looks of the lead man or his sexy leading lady; the books were bestsellers long before the films were made. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that Myer’s resurrection of old-fashioned values has struck a chord with many people.
Am I “converted” to the Twilight phenomenon? No! Will I be reading the novels, even out of mere curiosity? Probably not. I am, nonetheless, excited about the trendy new slant the books and motion pictures represent of traditional and, seemingly, ‘uncool’ values in today’s ‘cool’ society.