I have a confession to make.
I watched the two Twilight films recently . . and I feel dirty. No, no that’s going to far - it was a joke. Truthfully though, before watching the films I wondered if the decision to do so was somewhat akin to indulging in a guilty pleasure. It felt like I should be embarrassed to tell my friends about . . come to think of it, I guess I really haven’t yet. The title of this article is not a singular reference to a bit of pop culture, but two. The first and most obvious being the hoop-lah of recent years over the ultra successful Twilight saga and the second is a reference to a lesser known film oddity - ‘So I Married An Axe Murderer’. If you hadn’t already picked up the foreshadowing of the nuptials between the two lovers Bella & Edward in the title - I’ve just handed it to you.
My story begins in Eastbourne, England on a recent trip with some fellow youth workers from around the island of Ireland. We were attending a conference on youth ministry and by day two I had reached my ‘full’ indicator a little earlier than I normally would. I was searching for a way out - a pass to remove myself from the suffocating world of often covered, rarely inventive, youth ministry issues. So, while firmly wedged in an over-sized bean bag, I grabbed my iPhone and began to leech the free WiFi while searching for excuses to get off site. I opted to check listings for films since I seldom get out to see any since entering fatherhood. I found two options. Choice number one: ‘2012’ which, although seemingly mindless entertainment, was mildly intriguing. I wasn’t looking for the soul-searching or inspirational fare - just something to veg in front of. Choice number two: some film about vampires and werewolves . . ripping each other apart, I had hoped.
After exhausting my iPhone address book for possible other dissenters to invite into my minor rebellion, I found one; but his availability meant that in order for me to accommodate him, I’d have no choice between films - it was the New Moon Twilight film thingy or none. Not knowing much about the Twilight films apart from my normal youth work responsibility of intentional familiarity, as mentioned above, I was hoping for Action (yes, with a capital ‘A’). It wasn’t to be. Upon entering the extremely cool retro theater, and gliding up the red carpeted staircase I noticed something strange . . we were vastly outnumbered by members of the feminine species and young ones at that. It was at that point I should have connected the dots, but I didn’t.
Now, let me tell you this, I like the occasional dark, moody film. I enjoyed the first and the third installments of the ‘Underworld’ series, I liked the atmospheric sensibilities of the Brothers Grimm (even if the characterization was crap), I enjoyed the older French film ‘The Brotherhood of the Wolf’ - hey, even VanHelsing pushed a few buttons for me. So, going into ‘New Moon‘ I expected at least mildly aesthetically pleasing elements and some serious action sequences as the vampire and werewolf factions clashed. It wasn’t the case. Those two and a half hours were some for the most painful in recent memory for me.
The prevailing reason I remained in my seat for the entirety of the film was so that I could have more credibility when critiquing it in the eyes of my ardent adversaries. More than a few times I was about to laugh out loud at the incredibly cliche encounters between Bella and Edward. Their interactions seemed to me like a play put on by adults who had been told they were master actors by those who knew no better. The exchange of lines and looks was verging on hilarious too often for me to pick out a singular occurrence. In addition to the abhorrent lines between the main characters, I felt constantly pummeled by the uncertainty of the relationship between Bella and Edward and their own uncertainty in their standing with one another. It wouldn’t have been too far out to have had them pass the “Do You Like Me? Please check Yes or No“ note we who are Gen X’ers remember from our elementary years. At least the reply to that note by one of of the pain-stakingly, perplexed lovers would have ended the debacle then and there. I told the friend I attended the screening with that it felt as if I had spent the entirety of the film swimming in the morass of a troubled teenage girl’s mind. Maybe that was the intention of the author but it made it no less pleasant.
Adding to my already beleaguered soul was the uncomfortable reminder I was in the extreme minority in the room. At choice moments which only a young female of the pre-driving age could discern, we would hear the sickening ‘aawwww’ or muffled giggles of glee and delight. I still shudder at the experience as I relive it. I couldn’t help but ask myself ‘Why am I here?’ each time the room was enveloped in the crowd’s ecstatic responses to (nearly) universally apparent cues embedded in the marathon event. Yes, it was a waste of money in light of my desire to have been drawn into a story and entertained for two hours. The other side of the coin is that as a professional youth worker and a trainer of youth workers, it was a somewhat valuable experience. I may have been slightly aided if I had seen the first installment before ‘New Moon’- but only slightly. Surprisingly enough, I did choose to rent the first Twilight film two weeks later and beyond all belief, I enjoyed it. As of this moment, I still have yet to clarify exactly what was qualitatively different about the first film over the second, but there was something different. Okay, it still felt a little claustrophobic being trapped in the mind of the tragic ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ teenage Bella, especially in her manically depressed moments, but on the whole it was more engaging and believable (all but the parts about vampires of course).
Aesthetically, I was awash in the atmospheric elements which I have been all to familiar with the past ten years living in Ireland. When sporadic, those dreary days are a welcome experience. If any of you are particularly drawn to continually overcast skies and perpetually wet weather, come live in my world for a bit . . hey, why don’t we just get down to business and bring up a permanent exchange program?? I’m game. Of even stronger interest to me were the plentitude of exceedingly tall coniferous trees populating the sets and scenes. I loved that sense of being dwarfed by these earth-bourne giants. I can imagine the pleasant smell of pine filling the damp air of ‘Forks’. The fact that the sea was apparently very accessible was a welcome invention as well. Another thing I appreciated about the production value of the film was the stylizing of the vampires - especially the abstinent Cullen crew. Of course, their human-free diet choices added to their mystique, in addition to minor aspects of their appearance and ultimately their behaviour.
Beyond the purely ‘arty’ aspects of the two Twilight films, there were some deeper issues that came to light but which did not glisten like the glittery skins of their blood-sucking central characters. A few of these issues are certainly of utmost concern for parents of teens and youth workers / pastors as well. Next week, I’d like to explore some of these concerns and highlight what we should be aware of which may be negatively impacting more impressionable psyches through their often whole-sale embrace of stories such as Twilight. Even with this in mind, we will continue to celebrate what can be celebrated, when and where it is found.