Die-hard fans of the vampire romance novel Twilight will be happy to know that the film (rated PG-13 for violence and sensuality) follows the book nearly to the letter. For everyone else, however, this isn't good news. The nearly $70 million the big screen debut of Twilight brought in over the weekend doesn't change the fact that the medium of film only magnifies the weaknesses of author Stephanie Meyers' creation.
Many Christian readers have heaped praise on the Twilight series because its main characters maintain sexual abstinence. Never mind that, like most modern vampire stories, Twilight substitutes blood-drinking for sex. Therefore, to commend its young lovers for abstaining from intercourse is akin to commending a chocoholic for abstaining from brussels sprouts. In other words, the story hardly presents a positive relationship model for teenagers. There is little between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a solemn 17-year-old who moves from Phoenix, Ariz., to Forks, Wash., during her junior year, and her 90-year-old vampire classmate Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) beyond scowling and lust.
From the outset, Bella's love for Edward is based solely on his brooding good looks, while Edward's affection is based on the desirable scent of Bella's blood. And it doesn't grow into a healthy bond from there. Instead, the couple's ardor for one another resembles nothing other than obsession. Before the two have become more than passing acquaintances, Edward sneaks into an unknowing Bella's room at night to watch her sleep. And when he tells his new love that he has "killed people," Bella's response is an unbelievably selfish and irresponsible "I don't care." Like the attitude that infects so many real-life adult relationships these days, Bella and Edward somehow manage to ignore the fact that their romance endangers their family members, so intent are they on "following their hearts."
From a filmmaking perspective, the biggest problem with sticking to the book's script is that nothing much happens in the first half, other than Bella and Edward alternately glowering and mooning over each other. To her credit, director Catherine Hardwick tries to remedy this by introducing the threat of people-hunting vampires much earlier than the novel does, but it isn't enough. Long, boring scenes of the couple gazing on each other's loveliness, which one can skim over in the book, become long boring scenes one must sit through in the theater.
Given how little true chivalry and romance teenage girls experience in our hooking-up, girls-gone-wild culture, it's little wonder they have responded to Twilight so strongly. But Christian adults need to make sure they understand that the story presents a shallow, twisted picture of what real love looks like.
(Editor's Note: This movie review did not appear in the print edition of the November 29, 2008, issue of WORLD, but is offered online as a Web Extra.)