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Shedding Light on My Dislike for Twilight


Being a family oriented movie critic is rarely a popular job, and this week it's especially true after I viewed the highly anticipated Twilight and came away with decidedly non-mixed feelings -- put simply, it left me as cold as a vampire's skin.


But after reading dozens of comments on the movie this Monday morning (including negative letters written to our web site), three days after the film's release and $70 million weekend box office victory, I'm feeling like I'm the only one who interpreted heroine Bella Swan's romantic inclinations as being seriously obsessive. Let me run it past you, and see if you come to the same conclusion...


In the film (sorry, I have not read the book, so I can only judge the story by what I saw on the screen) teenaged Bella moves from one estranged parent -- her mother in Arizona -- to another. Arriving in the small community of Forks, Washington, Bella begins a new life with her father who also happens to be the town's chief of police.


The first day of school, Bella lays eyes on Edward, who happens to be her biology lab partner. To say Edward isn't excited about the prospects of working with the new girl in school is an understatement. His whole physical being is repulsed to the point that he doesn't show up for class for the next three days. But for Bella, their short interlude together has left her in a state of constant longing. In the film's voice-over, we hear her pining and wondering where Edward may be. She appears totally unable to cope with anything in life. And this is after spending part of a single class sitting beside him.


Meanwhile a pack of other friendly students -- including boys -- do their best to include Bella, but she remains steadfastly waiting for the return of her biology boy.


Finally Edward shows up, and the story kicks into high gear. We find out Edward is actually a vampire (hardly a secret for anyone who has read the anything about this story) and he has everything he can do to control his appetite for blood. Bella's reaction is impossible to misinterpret -- the more he tells her he's dangerous and that he may not be able to resist killing her, the more she wants to be with him.


Practically throwing herself at him during every waking minute, she begins a relationship in which she meets Edward's reclusive circle of associates. Her frequent rendezvous lead her to begin fabricating a series of lies to her father and friends, and she eagerly accepts Edward's covert late-night drop-in visits to her bedroom. Eventually, the story leads her into a situation where she feels she must leave her home without any explanation to tell her father where she is going. (In the movie, her decision to leave her father no explanation is partially justified because she fears him knowing where she is could place him in danger.)


Yes, it's all fantasy, but let me re-write this story of forbidden love in a different light...


Bella meets Edward in biology class. He's a nice guy, but somewhat offish. After a few days of her stalking him, he finally confesses he has a criminal record and that his past could pose a danger to her. But the more he tries to push her away, the more she comes on to him.


Eventually he gives in to her desires, and brings her into his gang of "friends" where she becomes acquainted with the inner dealings of the group. As she immerses herself in her new world of shady individuals, she pulls away from her own friends and parents. Eventually, she disconnects completely.


An extreme example? Perhaps, but remember Twilight is playing to a vast range of ages -- most are much younger (and more impressionable) than the characters on the screen who are mainly high school seniors. (A recent story in People magazine tells of a 7-year-old-girl who, during a promotional appearance for the film, begged Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward, to bite her. "It wasn't a joke," said the surprised actor.)


While Twilight is admirably free from heavy profanity, overt sexuality and many of the other things that plague many movies targeting young audiences, isn't this message somewhat disturbing? Should we really be encouraging the youngest of girls to become excited about obsessive romances where they feel justified in lying to their parents? And why is it usually the girl who needs to change to comply with the boy? (For examples of this, think back to The Little Mermaid, Grease and dozens of other movies and stories.)


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have any other parents seen this movie and come away with similar impressions? Or, is Twilight a harmless story that simply promotes romance in a fantasy context? Or am I an overprotective parent? Go ahead, make your case -- just don't bite me.


Rod Gustafson

Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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