November 24, 2009


It seems that a Monsignor Franco Perazzolo of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture called "New Moon" a "deviant moral vacuum." (The president of the Council is Archbishop Gianfranco Ravisi.)

The USCCB (U.S. Catholic Bishops) review* was nowhere near this harsh—I believe because they are taking it in the fantasy genre it is written in. They gave it a mild A-II rating (adults and adolescents) and briefly mentioned that the film contains "a hazy discussion about the possible loss of her [Bella's] soul. Edward [the vampire], we learn, believes that all his kind, no matter how courtly, are damned, though precisely what that means Melissa Rosenberg's script never tarries long enough to explore or explain." Um, Edward just "thinks" he's damned? I mean, wouldn't you KNOW something like that one way or the other? He seems to be confused about being alive or dead, also. Or maybe there's more to come in the sequels that will explain?

At first, all this talk of damnation (there is more of it) didn't quite follow Judaeo-Christian understandings, so I just dismissed it. But then I started to think: But how are young people (and others) interpreting it? Religious ignorance is so rampant, will they even get that this is NOT following Judaeo-Christian understandings? Will they dwell on this at all? What is unsettling is that Bella is pretty adamant that she doesn't care about her soul. If she has to "lose her soul" to be with Edward, she makes it clear that she doesn't care. But what is meant by "soul" here? Are young people going to get the idea that they should "give up their soul" if needs be to be with the love of their lives? Maybe. Do they really know what "giving up one's soul" means? Maybe. So, perhaps the question here is: Why don't young people know what "soul" and "giving up one's soul" means (if they don't)? Are we teaching them so that they can dissect the semantics for themselves with a truly Christian understanding? Are we talking about movies at all WITH young people? It's true that--unfortunately--people ARE getting much of their religious education from whatever religious trends and tidbits are floating around in pop culture (USA Today___________), but shouldn't we be addressing the cause of this religius ignorance and confusion (nonexistent or deficient catechesis) instead of trying to kill the messenger (that didn't come from our camp anyway)? Another example of spiritual half-truths (I'm sure not maliciously intended to deceive) can be found on the otherwise excellent show "Medium." The show is an exemplar of a great marriage, realistic and loving family life (Patricia Arquette's character and husband are raising three girls). The show's title, "Medium," refers to the fact that "Mrs. Dubois" (Patricia Arquette) is a medium who gets futuristic dreams of crimes and communicates with ghosts. Bad people go to a "bad place" after they die. People live on after death. After about a year of watching this show I suddenly realized--OMGosh, communicating with the dead in this way is forbidden! Mrs. Dubois, however, doesn't conduct seances or anything in order to communicate with the dead. In fact, they find her. But still, there is no mention of God who allows any kind of "good contact" that might occur between us and those who have gone before us.

What is also unsettling is that the comments made by the Monsignor from the Pontifical Council for Culture ("culture," especially) shows, perhaps, a lack of understanding of basic literary genres, or an overriding of this understanding due to a kind of fear-filled literalism. I understand his concern for "real souls," but this pastoral approach, to my mind, will not be effective in the long run. Why not, instead, ENGAGE the world of metaphor and moral imagination? Edward cares about Bella's soul, even if she doesn't. He has more information, life experience than she does. I was told by some young friends that they watch horror films because it makes them ask how much they value their own lives. They ask themselves what they would do in the same dire situation. Even with faulty "theology," one can ask these very real questions.

Do we have a problem in today's world with literalism and the loss of an understanding and appreciation of metaphor? Oh yes! Fundamentalism implies literalism, and our world is gravitating more and more toward all kinds of fundamentalism: religious, scientific, political, etc., so the Monsignor may be thinking of this situation as well. But, again, I don't think the pastoral answer is to join the world in putting nails in the coffin of metaphor. We are lost without metaphor. Neuroscientists tell us that the brain works completely with metaphors. That's how we are able to understand anything and everything. And the mysteries of our Faith can only be understood/expressed through symbols, signs and sacraments.

The Vatican puts out documents on the media that embrace the "Media Literacy Education position" with regard to media. There seems to be a conflict here. Perhaps there is concern that the SAME WORDS are used ("soul," "damnation") as real theology. But, again, the world of vampires is the world of make-believe. The authors of vampire stories simply make all this stuff up. If they didn't use some of the same words we use in reality, we wouldn't get any general idea of what they're talking about at all. Could some people get confused by the use of these real words that have a very precise meaning in Catholic theology? Yes. But, again, we need to remember that the world of fantasy is an "in between" world--neither reality NOR the heavenly, mystical realities of our Faith. Does an "in between" world exist? God has not revealed any such world to us (just as He hasn't revealed the existence of aliens if they exist). Therefore, we know all that we need to know. The Scriptures and our Catholic Faith are reasonably clear about "the last things." We don't need to start wondering if elements of FICTION actually exist. THIS, to my mind, would be a waste of time. (It seems that the upcoming film "Lovely Bones," although not a fantasy film, is also going to take us to an imaginative "in between" world of what-happens-after-death.)

Can we bounce all of these stories off of Catholic theology to see how they match up? Certainly! But are we actually expecting to get decent, correct, orthodox theology from a fantasy movie? I think it would be cool if this intriguing series ("Twilight") COULD play off good theology—just adding some fantastical creatures, but so far it doesn't seem to be doing so. (Also, the lack of any mention of God so far.) Series author Stephanie Meyers is also a Mormon (which is not a Christian religion because they don't believe that Christ is God), so I don't think we should expect any traditional understandings of Judaeo-Christian beliefs here, if she is even trying at all to put some "real theology" in her tales. And it's known that Meyers makes up her own vampire lore (not following traditional or already-established vampire tropes). Vampire lore doesn't follow ANY real "theology" because it is fantasy, just like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Irish fairy stories, etc. However, the fantasy genre may use some of the same language of theology, some "real world" terms, which can be confusing IF we don't keep in mind that we're in the fantasy genre.

The book "Imagining Faith with Kids--Unearthing Seeds of the Gospel in Children's Stories" is a great primer on how to use fantasy, fiction, fairy tales and fables to activate "moral imagination" in these realms:

[Full disclosure: I have not read the "Twilight" books.] I thoroughly enjoyed this uneven film (as I did the first movie). (To see my review of the first installment in the vampire series, "Twilight," just google "Kristen Stewart" in the upper left hand search box of this blog.) I'm sad that Catherine Hardwicke is not the director (she directed the first movie and set the tone which this movie keeps). The special effects are not all that more exciting than Hardwicke's. It seems Hardwicke was not given a decent-enough budget to do the SPFX she wanted because the studio was unsure if "Twilight" would be a hit. Yes, you heard that right.

Here's what's wrong with the film: There are huge logic gaps and weird continuity issues. There are so many rules governing vampires and werewolves and humans' interaction with them that it's hard to follow, BUT the rules also make for exciting plot points and quick "turns." The rules also have logic gaps—especially the mind-reading thing. In addition to the rules, there are lots of promises being made and partially broken, depending on how the characters interpret them. I don't want to make any lawyer jokes here, but this film could sure use some on screen. Or at least an ethicist.

Another quirk of the movie is the bad dialogue moments (frequent) and melodrama (rampant). Of course the books are known for their bad dialogue, so I'm sure screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg is only being faithful to the text. But the movie acknowledges its own camp somehow, and I'm sure INTENDS us to laugh at all the wrong moments (and right ones). Sometimes, "New Moon" is like a really yummy B-movie, including all the awkward, unnatural, obvious, bad blocking. (And Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward, is perfecting his "Snoopy Vulture" look again.)

Kristen Stewart (Bella) holds the whole thing together. Without her supernaturally professional acting, the Twilight movie series might be a big mess. And she makes it look easy. Kristen takes lemons and makes not lemonade but lemon meringue pie.

One of the "Twilight" series biggest hooks is the quest for immortality. We are all on this quest, some with full awareness, some with only dim awareness. Bella, a very ordinary young woman, suddenly finds herself beloved and in love. This changes everything. But she will grow old, she will die. How can she preserve this love? How will she make sure she'll never be separated from her love? If we don't believe that strongly in love or immortality, we're going to fill this "hole in our chest" with other things. Maybe small pleasures. My own moral imagination asks: Jesus Christ DOES offer me immortality (the human soul is immortal, but we must "cooperate with grace" to insure a HAPPY eternity for ourselves) and holiness and heaven--but first He offers me love, HIS perfect, overwhelming, ecstatic, never-ending, ever-increasing, free, full, faithful, fruitful love. Am I as passionate about receiving that love? Am I as driven as Bella to seize what is "mine"? I think one of the biggest reasons we are so lukewarm in our faith (although I love how young people today are reclaiming the word "devout Catholic" and self-identifying as such!) is that we've made heaven and the afterlife about US. I will go to MY happy place and be with MY loved ones and do what I like to do. Forgetting Someone? Heaven is primarily about God! About being WITH God. Heaven primarily IS God! That doesn't inspire us with warm, fuzzy feelings? That's not a big impetus? Then something needs to change. We obviously need to develop our relationship with God here on earth. Embarrassed that we've kind of forgotten this is what heaven is? Don't be. Even we, His dumb brides, forget. There is much working against our proper understanding of heaven and our desire to be with God. (See "Screwtape Letters" by C. S. Lewis.) It will take a lifetime (however long we are granted) to expand our capacity to receive more and more of His love and return it.

The true beauty of the "Twilight" series is the URST—Hollywood's acronym for "unresolved sexual tension." Paradoxically, without sex, it is even MORE about loving the WHOLE person. Because many factors keep Bella and Edward apart (and Bella and Jacob), they show their love in many other ways. WAY more interesting that hopping in the sack after the first kiss. Or before. The characters have to…brace yourself…TALK to each other! LOVE in the "Twilight" series is heroic. LOVE is always looking out for the good of the other and doing what's right for them. It's unselfish LOVE, sacrificial love. That's what makes "Twilight" so "Theology of the Body." It's also LOVE from a girl/woman's perspective. A rarity in male-dominated Hollywood. This is the kind of love WE want to see.

Edward and Bella find everything in each other. The worth of a human life is stressed. We see that love is the measure of a human person. Teens get infatuated and obsess over their crushes and can tend to go to extremes in their young loves, but they are right that love is everything, the best thing, not even a thing.
"Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible to himself; his life is senseless if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it."
--John Paul II


--Werewolf beefcake!

--This is going to sound really, really strange, but I've been thinking about going veggie and "New Moon" clinched it for me. If those vampires can go human-veggie, I can certainly go animal-veggie. I guess this is one of those examples of life imitating art. It's my gift to Baby Jesus this year. I'm not gonna eat the ox and lamb.

--Is Bella going to "commit suicide" if she becomes a vampire? It's interesting that when the Cullens family was voting on whether she should "go vampire," one member of the family said: "It's not a life I would have chosen for myself. I wish someone had been there to vote 'no' for me. So, 'no.'" Many negative reviews say this is a "suicide-obsessed movie." I can kind of see their point--I mean, what about Bella's Dad and Mom and friends if she "goes vampire"? But aren't we supposed to give everything for love? Aren't we supposed to do whatever it takes for love, for the pearl of great price (TRUE suicide aside)? Did Jesus commit suicide on the cross? (He could very, very easily have avoided it, naturally and supernaturally.) Are the Christians martyrs who could have avoided martyrdom (without denying their faith) suicides?

--Is it just me or does Pattinson look a little like David Bowie?

--Love the vampire's golden eyes.

--Taylor Lautner is really developing as an actor. He's from Grand Rapids, MI, and is part Potawatomi! Long hair or short? Long.

--A fan's sign at "New Moon" premiere (this fan favored Jacob over Edward): "Real men don't sparkle."

--Bella is always shedding blood. Yeesh. You think she'd be more careful around all those vamps.
--Great quote: "It's just blood, Bella. No big deal."

--Bella's Dad's great advice: "Sometimes you have to learn to love what's good for you."

--The highest use of something can be to sacrifice it.

--Love the "Elysian Fields"!

--Love Victoria's hair. And clothes.
--Bella: "Are the fairytales true? Is anything normal and sane?" This is a really, really great line. Think about it.
--How many ways can you insult a werewolf (with dog jokes)?
--Before Jacob ALMOST kisses Bella, he says something in his native tongue. Cool.
--"Twilight" maintains that people can live/love ardently even without sex, even when separated.
--"Theology of the Body" puts the love back in sex.
--What BETTER vampire music can one have than OPERA??
--Bad vampire dude to Bella when she offers her life for Edward's: "You'd give up your life for one of us? A soul-less monster?"
--"Twilight" maintains that people are very special.
--"Twilight" maintains that every little thing in a relationship is special.
--Do GUYS like this movie???? (feedback, please) My 16-year-old nephew says: "Are you crazy?"

--I've been reading some (negative) Christian reviews of the movie. They say it portrays the most immature kind of love. "Immature" or "the raw essence of love"? Remember--love in "Twilight" is always sacrificial, agape--as well as eros and philia all at the same time. That's kind of perfect love (see Pope Benedict's encyclical "God is Love").

--One thing that makes "Twilight" super "unrealistic" is that there is literally NOTHING ELSE going on in the movie except lovesick brooding. jobs? cleaning the house? But then again, this is fantasy. Did you ever see Orks brushing their teeth in "Lord of the Rings?" It's just way too mundane for the genre. It's actually kind of fun to see life pared down, stripped away to its essence of love and longing. What IF we really lived out of that core at every moment?

*That unfortunately called Jacob "Bella's American Indian" friend twice. We don't say "Chinese" or "Black" friend over and over, do we? And isn't the term "Native American"?


  1. Just saw the movie on Sunday. Was it a great way to spend the Lord's day? At first I was taken aback by the angst that came across constantly. I was reminded of the days of youth searching for meaning in the other. Yet we are called to define ourself with the other (not against the other) so what was the problem? I agree that Bella flaunting the "soul" as something dispensible was a groggy thing to do - meaning drunk on love. But what love? That is the question I asked. Afterall Paul was willing to give up his place in heaven for his people. Then you have to ask about God's love - obvioiusly Paul also said nothing was going to separate him from that! The movie can bring on great dialogue about the place of sin, redemption, love and LOVE in our conversation and living today. Well back to my paper on sin and redemption in Ratzinger...signing off

  2. I am a guy, and I finished reading Breaking Dawn yesterday. You wanted to know what guys think, I love it! But most of my male friends hate it and think I'm a nutter - except my brother!

    I too see a number of ToB aspects to it. Is it a perfect analogy? No. Is it a morally flawless book? No. But I am a big boy, I can judge when this is the case. Like the business about souls and stuff. Not that I'm immaculate, but I think there is something in "to the pure, all things are pure".

  3. My boyfriend loves everything to do with twilight. I've not seen the movies, but I've read the books. I didn't like the books at all, but from what I'm hearing, I should probably watch the movies anyway. I don't know. We'll see. But Jacob loves 'em.