A Dark Fantasy

by Anna Blanch on December 2, 2011

Today is the halfway point of the 16 Days of Action. I have two posts for you today. First up, I bring you a guest post from Anna Drew.  I met Anna earlier this year at MediaLit. Actually, come to think of it, I met alot of really fabulous people that week. Anna’s smart, engaging and very funny. She loves her husband Jim, her ipad, (and dare I damage her reputation for good taste, she has a soft spot for UK drama Holby City). Besides all that she’s a wonderful communicator. I am glad people like Anna work to teach those in the church how to communicate with the media in positive and productive ways. 

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** spoiler alert **

Without wishing to reinforce the stereotypes too much I do love a girls’ night out. A movie, my best girlie buddies and a bucket of popcorn the size of my Fiat make an irresistible combination.

So last Tuesday we trundled off to the Odeon to check out Breaking Dawn Part I – the penultimate film in the four-book five-film vampire teen phenomenon penned by Stephanie Meyer. For those unfamiliar with the series here’s a super-brief overview to the background:

Moody, skinny teenager Bella Swan moves to live with her father in gloomy, rainy Forks, Washington. It rains a lot, she doesn’t fit in. She falls in love with a sexy young vampire called Edward Cullen. But she also quite likes werewolf Jacob Black. Both blokes fancy her. She picks Edward and wants him to turn her into a vampire so they can live out eternity together. He promises to ‘turn her’ after their wedding day.

Twihards (hardcore fans) see it as the perfect combination of fantasy, horror and love triangle.

In the latest film, Edward and Bella get married, but decide to postpone her transformation so they can enjoy their honeymoon (it’s apparently very painful to become undead). But before that can happen she gets pregnant with a vampire baby who nearly kills her, but is eventually delivered safely and Edward turns Bella into a vampire in order to save her from death. The end.

So, a nice fantasy/horror/chick flick? My mates seemed to think so. I, however, came away depressed and infuriated in equal measure. To me, the film seemed nothing short of misogynistic.

Edwards and Bella’s coupling seems to me to have all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. He’s jealous, he’s controlling, he watches her all the time (literally – he goes into her bedroom at night to watch her while she sleeps), he instinctively wants to harm her (suck her blood) and can barely control himself. He hates himself for this, but it’s her fault for being so damn delicious. In Breaking Dawn, his lovemaking leaves her covered with bruises, the bedroom destroyed. He doesn’t want to harm her, but she wants it and that’s part of the package. When she gets pregnant, he’s furious with her for not being willing to abort the baby (admittedly, it’s some weird vampire demon baby that will probably kill her).

This all made my skin crawl. But there was one other worrying element. When a werewolf falls in love, it ‘imprints’ on that person who is then destined to become their life partner. Jacob imprints on Bella’s baby daughter shortly after her birth. You might call that imprinting, I call grooming. My best friend tells me that it’s OK because the baby (Renesmee – I know) will grow up very quickly. Oh, right. Well, that’s definitely OK then. Totally.

My good friend Paul pointed out that many films depict violence, horror and abuse… but I don’t object to them. And that’s true – I love a good scare or a gritty biopic as much as anyone else. But I think this film takes things a step further.

I know it’s just a story, but actually, I think stories are very important. Especially the stories that we tell young women and men about how they relate to one another and how they should view themselves. Not only does it depict a violent relationship, it romanticizes and glorifies it as ‘true love’.

I’m not naturally pro-censorship and I’m not even sure I’d want Twilight removed from our screens, but I am concerned that not more people are worried about the messages it is giving young women about relationships. And I don’t think I’d mind the Twilight phenomenon so much if millions of girls and women (including my closest friends) weren’t fawning all over Edward. “HE WANTS TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD!” I want to scream at them.

I left wondering how we might challenge these damaging stories, and whether Hollywood will ever let us tell the positive ones.

Anna Drew is an Anglican working for the Methodist Church in Britain as Lead Media Officer. She is passionate about theology, film, radio and online communication. She lives in Kent with her husband Jim.

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This post is part of the 16 Days of Action toward eliminating violence against women. The 16 Days of Action is a global campaign founded by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, I’m hosting posts across the 16 days, from 25 November to 10 December. You can help by sharing these posts on social media, by taking care of the women around you, & by standing against violence against women. A full list of posts.
Connect with Anna on Academia.edu, Linked In, facebook page, & Twitter.

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  • http://twitter.com/mvahowe @mvahowe

    Hollywood did do Narnia, and it trounced Golden Compass. I can't think of many examples of films based on more recent Christian writing. But then I can't think of many examples of more recent Christian novels that are not propaganda.

    (Agree with you that Twilight is hideous, by the way.)

    • http://goannatree.blogspot.com Goannatree

      while i'm glad the Narnia films have been attempted, and while aesthetically they're great, I get quite frustrated with the changes made to the narrative which show a profound lack of understanding in what CON is about.

      I've written alot about my dislike of the label "christian" as applied to novels. I think something can offer a positive narrative without being overtly "christian."

  • http://www.futureshapeofchurch.org Edward Green

    So I take it you haven’t read Anne Rice, Lauren K Hamilton or let’s be basic, Bram Stoker? On any Gothic literature of whatever quality?

    • http://goannatree.blogspot.com Goannatree

      Thanks for your comment, Edward. I don't know about Anna D, but i've read Stoker and lots of gothic fiction, seeing as I write on the Victorians. I have to admit that I haven't read any Rice or Hamilton. I see a difference in the quality of writing of Stoker and that of the Twilight series, but i'm wondering if that's what you're getting at. Are you commenting on the similarities between these examples of vampire narratives? or something else?

  • http://twitter.com/mvahowe @mvahowe

    My other problem with the whole thing is that, if you don't buy into the story from the angle described by Anna – ie men abuse women but they like it or at least take it as part of "true love" – you seem to have to opt for some sort of "new vampire" reading. He's a vampire, but he doesn't eat humans, he works hard to form adult relationships with werewolfs despite their difference, he's involved in childrearing… and that feels to me like "Politically correct fairytales" without the humour.

  • http://diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Ah, Anna B asked me to come comment on this, and I see why!

    Anna D, you are absolutely correct in your reading of Bella and Edward's relationship as abusive. In fact, Bella doesn't have a healthy relationship with any of the men in her life (maybe with her father, but that's questionable as he doesn't seem that interested or involved in her life). I take it you've just seen the movie instead of reading the books? I'm glad to hear about some of the things were changed for the Breaking Dawn movie – like Bella staying awake during her first time having sex.

    Yeah, you read that right – in the book, she blacks out, wakes up with bruises and a broken headboard, and concludes, "Well, I can't remember any of it! So it must have been AWESOME!" Yeah, uh-huh, that's a healthy thing to teach women. So, not only is Edward abusive, but he's also a rapist.

    Edward fulfills most of the signs of a textbook abusive relationship: He controls who she can see and can't see (he forbids her from hanging out with Jacob), he blames her for his abusive actions ("if only you weren't so captivating…"), he acts in ways that scare her, makes all of the big important decisions in the relationship, threatens to commit suicide, abandons her in the forest when he breaks up with her, prevents her from calling the police or seeking medical attention for problems, and is extremely jealous of her outside relationships (notice that she has to cut off contact with EVERYONE else in her life when she marries Edward).

    It's extremely, extremely problematic – as you point out – that this relationship is held up as a romantic ideal. Neither of the men Bella is choosing between respect Bella as a person – to them, she is merely an object to be won (quoth Princess Jasmine), and something to be fought over. She has no ambition besides marrying Edward, her only "flaw" is inconsistently portrayed (if she's clumsy, she shouldn't be able to jump down the stairs, Stephenie!), and she is terrified of growing older.

    It's like teaching girls on the playground, "He's teasing you because he likes you," except for teenagers: "He's removing the battery cable from your car engine because he loves you so much!"

    Gross. There's a lot to be said about how literature shapes and influences our view of the world, but I'm too squicked out by Bella and Edward to go into detail about that here.

    • http://www.annadrew.blogspot.com Anna Drew

      Thanks so much Dianna. You're right – I gave up after the first book (mainly because I could't stand the whingeng misery of it all) – but it's worrying that the books are more extreme. I don't understand why more people aren't making a fuss about this….

      • http://www.annelyle.com Anne Lyle

        I think the American audience, at least, are too blinded by the whole "we won't have sex until we're married" ideal (which is very popular over there) to realise just how dysfunctional the rest of Bella and Edward's relationship is. Anyone who hasn't read the books (or seen the films) might be misled into thinking the books are setting their teenage kids a good example rather than a really, really bad one.

  • paulb4444

    Hi Anna B
    I’m the ‘Good friend Paul’ that Anna D refers to in the article when she says: ‘My good friend Paul pointed out that many films depict violence, horror and abuse… but I don’t object to them…’
    By implication this may unintentionally misrepresent my viewpoint, as so I thought I’d leave a brief comment. I agree with Anna when she makes a distinction between types of Horror and their effect – some horror is engaging in a way that shocks or repulses us, we reject it as amoral, whereas some horror is engaging in a way that entices or offers a view or life that is framed as acceptable or even desirable. Twilight falls into the latter category.
    (Continued below…)

  • paulb4444

    If we were not influenced by what we read or saw in film then there would be no advertising, because it would not entice us to buy certain products. The fact that billions of pounds are spent on advertising each year is testament to the power of images and words.
    Forget the fact that Edward is a vampire for a moment. The danger behind Twilight (I’ve seen three of the films, and this is a theme throughout) is that abusive or controlling relationships are presented as desirable from the perspective of teenage girls. The line between protection and abuse, and care and obsession/possessiveness is totally blurred. This is, in my opinion, a very dangerous view of human relationships to present to young girls in a ‘positive’ frame.
    So, although I stand by my comment, and don’t believe the depiction of horror or violence is inherently wrong, I agree with Anna that the way in which that horror is packaged and what it says to us about life and what is acceptable or desirable is the real danger.

    • http://www.annadrew.blogspot.com Anna Drew

      Paul – agreed. And you're right to clarify your comment! I'm a big horror fan, as you know, and I think that makes it more difficult to draw the line, but there is a clear distinction.

  • James Church

    Hey Anna, I agree with a lot of what you've written here. From an evangelical Christian point of view I think it is refreshing to see a high view of marriage and a willingness to place sexual intimacy within the context or marriage. Yet this veneer of morality sugar coats some very disturbing sinful and spiritually abusive messages that run through the books. In the books (and the films?) Bella is portrayed as weak and clumsy in constant need of rescue by the men in her life who fight over her as if she were some possession. Her character is reduced to someone in love with and dependent upon Edward who becomes her saviour the active agent in her transformation. In this way the man in her life takes the place of God (idolatry), this puts an unrealistic pressure upon men to fulfil a role they were never intended to, and demeans women's gifts, talents and character as those who along with men are created in God's image. Ultimately marriage itself is corrupted as tool for misogynistic domination rather than as a means by which fallen men and women can struggle together with sin to love and glorify God in their lives.

    • http://www.annadrew.blogspot.com Anna Drew

      Hi James – I agree. Many go on about how great it is that Twilight is anti sex before marriage. In itself that's a good message, but in Twilight it's a cover for a much more damaging portrayal of fulfilled relationships. Your theological reading is very helpful, I think.

  • Elaine Lindridge

    With regards to imprinting. When I read it in the books it seemed to make sense in that context as it was more fully explained. Trying to tell someone else about it when discussing the film – it just sounded creepy and like grooming. Also, I read Bella's turmoil as more about her inability to understand & accept herself, than about her confusion over 2 love interests.

    • http://www.annadrew.blogspot.com Anna Drew

      Hi Elaine, I understand that and it's been said to me by others. I think I can see how things might be more nuanced in the books (though I have to say I quit after the first one as it simply got on my nerves). But I still think the films are worth worrying about as for many that's all they'll see and it sounds like the books have plenty to worry about in them too! Also, don't you think it's sad that Bella solves her inability to understand herself by hooking up with a man, who then transforms her into what she's 'supposed to be'?

  • mumonamission

    Wow this really made me think – ana always does that 😉 I haven't seen any of the Twilight films but the description certainly has the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. It really concerns me that this imbalance of power is modelled to teens and that girls lap it up as desirable. Why can't we have Holllywood films that depict, thinking, strong, educated women with fantastic men who respect them and buy them cake???!!!!
    Love this anna – please can you hurry up and start your own blog now 🙂
    x

  • Pingback: Love, Personhood, and Abuse in Twilight « We Your People, Ours the Journey()

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