Understand that the viewer controls the volume of the actual movie, and it's important to be able to hear the lines as often the commentary references them. So it was that yes, I watched the Twilight movies (well, through "Eclipse" and observed a few patterns that sadden me.
Initially, I wondered what the draw was on this particular series. While I don't mind the fictional premise, the way it plays out is surprisingly overly-emo and totally...depressing. Yes, really. We got to the end of the second movie and thought it both went on for WAY too long and quite honestly, if I'd been watching it without RiffTraxx I might well have hung myself by the end. (Yes, this is hyperbole!)
Having watched three of them now, though, I considered the patterns. What is the draw of these angst-filled, dark, depressing, overly-emo movies?
The answer came to me at Adoration yesterday and perhaps more fully this morning at Mass, on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It seems odd, doesn't it, to have such a weird Epiphany on such a Holy day in such a Holy season, doesn't it? At the same time, that is how Christ comes to us; in the darkness, in our struggles, as we ponder the profoundly wounded part of our human nature; the nature Jesus took on to restore and glorify.
Bella, the protagonist of the Twilight series, is a teenage girl who happens to be "in love with" an animated corpse and his corpse family (Yeah, they're vampires, but they are non-living ergo, they are corpses and not human any longer), and this corpse is "in love" with her, while at the same time, so is a Werewolf. And "poor Bella" is for some inexplicable reason at the center of everything and constantly being rescued by the Vampire and Werewolf families who are always having to protect her...even dying to do so. And they won't let her participate much in her own salvation. She's supposed to just go along for the ride, and while she's unconscious or bleeding again or sleeping because she nearly died of hypothermia out of pure stupidity (as portrayed by the movie), we are subject to long monologues and dialogues and much pontificating over who loves her the most and who is best for her...etc etc etc. It goes on and on and gets to be quite tiresome.
Now..I get it. There's a wounded heroine in Bella that calls to the wounded depths in many of us, which makes sense; we as humanity are wounded. Bella is young, vulnerable, and for some reason, an object of desire. She yearns for eternal love, and this is true of all of us. We were all created to love and to be loved by God for eternity.
Yet as usual, "love" is misunderstood. Too often "love" is shown to be so one-dimensional, something for self-fulfillment, perhaps something that calls for a little sacrifice...but only a little. Nothing too painful but then again, that's ok when there's a weird hero there to save the day.
And what weird heroes start to appear in fiction and even real life when "love" is so badly warped as it is in our society. A vampire as one's true love and hero? A Werewolf to carry and comfort one? How does that work?
Objective Salvation - the Truest Hero
This morning at Mass I pondered the Crucifix and the humility of Christ, who entered the world in the same way He left it: through a cave. He came humbly, born into the filth of animal dung and laid in a container marked with the saliva of camels, sheep, and oxen. He came quietly for no one wanted Him then, He came to die even for those who did not believe and did not care or know that He ever existed, and He left the world as a criminal, accursed.
And yet, Jesus entered human history "in the fullness of time", entered into our suffering in all ways except sin, for it was our sins He came to redeem. It was our suffering He dignified and called us to unite with His own, which He suffered entirely on our behalf. Jesus comes to us silently and does not "rescue" us in Hollywood Drama, but lifts us up to the supernatural level that does not render us dead or mutated, but rather, makes us fully human and fully alive - for eternity.
The world desires heroes with great film presence and lofty lists of triumphs against dubious enemies. The world desires heroes that transform us but - into something non-human. The world demeans humanity while it pretends to elevate it. The world wants a hero that will save the "victims" and not require the victim to lift a finger to save herself. And the victim only wants to be saved from a life of mediocrity and elevated to the mere trophy of a hero who really isn't that heroic. And in the case of Twilight, the hero is, respectively, a blood-sucking corpse living eternal death, and an apparently-stinky guy who turns into a large canine at will. The heroes in such fiction are fallen and yes, perhaps there is a draw there, as well, for we have been conditioned to believe man cannot be perfected and cannot be saved.
In so many ways, every day I look around me, observing our culture through our entertainment, world events, daily interactions, and I fear that we, as a culture, throughout the world, have lost hope. It's not just in popular fiction, but in what our culture clearly values. Our "heroes" are actors with addictions and political agendas, and athletes making obnoxious amounts of money while running dog-fighting rings on the side and maybe running over cops just because they can afford the lawyers to get them off the hook for stuff for which a normal citizen would be penalized to the extent of the law and maybe beyond.
Our cultural heroes are all fallen images of the darkest side of human nature. They have no objective morality, nothing that is consistent, nothing that can be measured and nothing anyone would really want to follow...yet they do. The moral relativism of our society reveals a lack of hope.
This morning I gazed upon the crucifix and pondered how it rose out of the wood of the manger, for as the Church Fathers observed and theologians continue to observe, the wood of the manger and wood of the cross are one and the same. They cannot be separated, and our hero has not fallen...He is risen! And when He rose, He descended to the depths of Hell and ascended to open the gates of Heaven, having restored the dignity of human nature, having, freely paid the ransom for we who choose to be victims of sin.
We do not merit so great a Redeemer!
Jesus does not strut or preen before us, seeking our popular adulation. He simply IS, and He comes to us, truly, substantially, His very Presence, through the Sacraments. He reaches all of our senses and waits for our response. He is a gentleman who, although created us without our permission, will not save us without our cooperation.
In the eyes of Christ, we are no longer victims, but Children of the Father, brothers and sisters, and subject to His Mother who intercedes on our behalf so that we may cooperate with God's grace more completely. That is not to say Jesus did not accomplish all, but rather, that He is more greatly glorified when we reach out to Him and CHOOSE the path of righteousness and holiness. He is glorified more perfectly when we CHOOSE to turn from sin and fight our temptations, growing, deliberately, in virtue. God is glorified when we embrace the virtues He gives us instead of giving into the temptations that seek to destroy us.
God's Grace is freely given, but it's not cheap; it requires our own participation, our own sacrifices, because becoming fully human wasn't one moment in history; it is constant, for all of us. We are pilgrims on this earth, also born into filth and we will never be fully free and fully redeemed until we move from this world and into eternal glory, should we choose to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strength.
A real hero doesn't leave a wake of victims but elevates and transforms them, making them ever more human and ever more divine, as God always intended.
Thank you, Jesus.
[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is not intended to be a review of Twilight or exploration of all themes within the books or movie. The use of Twilight characters is incidental and used to illustrate a far more important point.]