I probably smiled more than was fair while reading Drew McWeeny’s review of the latest Twilight movie.  Shows a flaw in my character, I’m sure.

Anyway, I hope you read the whole thing. Here’s the heart of his criticism. (HT to Halden Doerge)

Here’s where I have a problem.  I don’t care if they get married or not, because in this film, “get married” is just code for “now we can do it.”  Their marriage isn’t about building something together or creating a family.  Their marriage isn’t about time they’ve spent together and time they want to spend together.  It’s all hormonal.  It’s all impulse.  Bella Swan is defined as a character purely by who she wants to sleep with, and I don’t care if she actually consummates the act or not.  This movie is driven from start to finish by the real estate between her legs, and if that sounds blunt or harsh, good.  I want it to sound ugly, because I think it is ugly.  Deeply ugly.  She’s the weakest, most dependent lead in a film that I can imagine.  There is nothing interesting about Bella aside from her desire for these two boys.  It is a narcissistic teenage fantasy taken to a disturbing depth.  Nothing in the world of these movies matters beyond the resolution of whether or not Bella is going to bone Edward.  And when.  And how.  And whether she’s going to bone Jacob as well.

There is talk of love, but there is nothing like love in these movies.  These are not stories about love.  They are stories about infatuation, temporary teenage madness.  And, hey, man… I may be ancient at this point, but I remember what it’s like when you’re a teenager and everything feels so important, and I’ve seen films that get that frenzy just right and they still manage to feature real character work and stories that are interesting and actual events.  You can make a great movie about the rush of teenage love.  You can use it as a backdrop for all sorts of stories.  But for that to be the thing that holds us as an audience, we have to believe that there’s something behind it.  I have yet to see anything in any of these movies that would connect these characters beyond narrative convenience.

Bella doesn’t love these men because of things they have done together.  Instead, everything they do together is because they “love” Bella.  It’s a pissing contest.  And both of the guys are just as poorly defined and as grotesque as Bella in what they represent.  Edward is her “dream man,” and as depicted in the films, he’s basically a control freak who treats her like an object to possess.  He lies to her.  He manipulates her.  He is unable to tolerate her interacting with anyone else.  Ladies… if you have a chance to marry a man who acts like Edward while you’re dating, do it.  And then you can look forward to broken bones and mysterious bruises and a slow and methodical separation from friends and family until you exist only for him.  Which is obviously what you’re looking for, right?  Ooooh, romantic.

Or if Edward’s love isn’t the right kind for you, then maybe you can get lucky and earn yourself a Jacob.  A guy who is hot enough that he knows you will love him, and if you don’t, then it’s just a matter of time.  After all, look at his abs.  He doesn’t offer anything more substantial than Edward in terms of emotion or support, but he does have those abs.  He’s also got body heat, so obviously he is a better choice for Bella.  He has one scene where he actually tells her that he has not imprinted on her as a mate, as is the way with his kind, but that doesn’t matter.  We’re still supposed to believe that this is important, that this struggle over this pathetic, empty dishrag means something.

I love women.  I love all sorts of women.  And because I love real women, actual flesh and blood human being that happen to have a slightly different arrangement of chromosomes than I do, I despise these movies.  I hate them for what they offer up as a value system.  I hate them because there are girls who mistake their own chemical response to the male leads in the movie as an actual affection for the story that’s being told.  They invest on the surface level, and in the meantime, there is this poisonous cancer, this vile insidious message that’s being sold to them underneath.  I hate these movies because they tell girls that this is their value in the world.  Who you bang defines you.  You are worth your vagina and nothing more.  You are who your man is.  That is all.

It seems that Ms. Meyers hoped to make the idea of sexual abstinence a little more exciting to her ‘young’ readers. She understands that a compelling narrative into which we invite another to graft their own personal story is the best way to do this. That’s cool.

It’s something the prudish tradition I grew up in never understood. I was blessed by parents who knew better, but most of the kids in the youth group got the same thing at home as they did at church: a simple and loud ‘Don’t!’

Not very compelling, that; I remember  it was not very effective either when placed in competition to the Solid Gold Dancers.

I suspect this is why the Twilight Series ends up making sex the point of existence. While it does well in aiming at the desires of the heart (as opposed to the mind or will as in my Fundamentalist upbringing), it delivers the same negative message of abstinence.

Many confuse this message with that of Mother Kirk’s. Sadly this is  true of many within Mother Kirk, but the church doesn’t guard a story of abstinence. She invites us to carve a life of chastity. The first is a negation. The second, a treasure.

Sexuality can only rise above ‘plumbing’ and animal instinct (and so be treated with more concern than we afford other issues of bodily plumbing and animal instinct), if it means something. Sexuality requires a grammar through which it can say what every human heart tacitly knows- sex is never just sex, but meaning and grammar require a larger story.

This is why the church bothers to speak about sexuality at all. She has a vision of human flourishing in which the bodies of men and women play a central role. They matter, but not as the ‘Be All and End All’ of life. According to the Gospel, life isn’t about satisfying this or that urge (although what kind of good God dreams up the clitoris!). If men, women and bodies are all there is, they can’t matter. Not really.

Rather men, women and their desires are given meaning by being included in an epic in which God himself saves the world from evil by uniting himself to them. Our story gives us something indescribably large and precious to live and die for- the life of the world. And, as Tertullian put it,  ‘the flesh is the hinge of salvation.’

It glories in strong shoulders and round bottoms by understanding that they (like all of creation) were meant to tug at our sleeve and point us to God, his life and our nonsensical privilege of standing shoulder to shoulder with him against the forces of Mordor.

This is what Twilight seems to be missing.

The decision to ‘do it’ or ‘not to do it’ never goes beyond the individual interests of the randy teens. There is no larger story to give the decision meaning. We are left only with the throbbing area below the belt and an appeal to the erotics of abstinence. The message is that we say ‘No’ only because it makes saying ‘Yes’ that much more exciting.

Now my problem isn’t with that claim. I actually agree with it, and would recommend Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty to make the case; but…

…life is more than the quest for the finest orgasm. Thank God.

Its about much more than avoiding arousal, too. Again, Thank God.

That’s what both the prudish and the champions of optimal sexual fulfillment don’t understand (and have in common). Its not about sex at all; or rather it is, but only as image. But that’s another story

And there’s my point.