Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mormon imagery runs deep in ‘Twilight’

Religion News Service (Salt Lake Tribune)

Los Angeles • Ever since Bram Stoker’s Dracula began haunting the imagination in 1897, popular culture has identified Christian symbols — crucifixes, holy water, communion wafers — as weapons to ward off a blood-thirsty vampire.

The Twilight novels and film franchise have religious associations, too — most of them from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As the film’s “Twi-hard” fans get ready for the third “Twilight” installment, “Eclipse,” to open in theaters Wednesday, few are likely to recognize the religious references in the film based on the novels by Stephenie Meyer, herself a Mormon.

“People make up all these Mormon references just so they can publish ‘Twilight’ articles in respectable publications like The New York Times,” actor Robert Pattinson (Edward, the film’s central vampire character), told Entertainment Weekly. “Even Stephenie said it doesn’t mean any of that.”

It’s possible that Meyer never set out to weave LDS imagery into the ‘Twilight’ background. Yet intentional or otherwise, it’s hard to ignore:

• The story’s teenage heroine, Bella, avoids coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco — not unlike the Mormons’ “Word of Wisdom” health code. Bella also advises her father to “cut back on steak,” much like the LDS teaching to eat meat and poultry “sparingly.”

• Feminists have questioned Bella’s frequent cooking and cleaning — household chores that reflect a strong Mormon work ethic and traditional roles for women. The official motto for mostly Mormon Utah is “Industry,” and its symbol is the beehive.

• A crucial Mormon belief is that humans can become divine. In the “Twilight” series, the Cullen family of vampires once was human but now lives without death in a resurrected condition. Meyer describes the Cullens, particularly Edward, as “godlike” and “inhumanly beautiful.”

• Mormons believe angels are resurrected beings of flesh and bone. The most familiar is Moroni, who stands high atop LDS temples, trumpet in hand. The Book of Mormon, the faith’s trademark Scripture, says Moroni was a fifth-century prophet who visited church founder Joseph Smith. Smith described Moroni as radiating light and “glorious beyond description.”

Bella describes her vampire boyfriend, Edward, as an angel whom she cannot imagine “any more glorious.” Edward’s skin sparkles in the sunlight, and he visits Bella’s bedroom at night. But Mormon angels don’t have wings; in the “Twilight” film, Edward sits in the science lab, the outstretched wings of a stuffed white owl just over his shoulders.

• A unique LDS teaching is that marriages are “sealed” for eternity; spouses are referred to as eternal companions. Bella describes her relationship with Edward as “forever.”

• Bella and Edward’s marriage, and her quick pregnancy, underscore the Mormon emphasis on the family. But Bella’s half human/vampire fetus nearly destroys her, so her distraught husband suggests an abortion and artificial insemination. Mormons permit abortions if the mother’s life is in danger, and artificial insemination is an option for married couples.

Bella quickly vetoes abortion and artificial insemination, reinforcing the essential Mormon teaching of individual choice, or “agency.” Meyer has said that the apple on the cover of the first Twilight novel represents Eve’s choice in the Garden of Eden. The poster for “Eclipse” includes the line: “It all begins ... with a choice.” The patriarch of the vampire family, Carlisle Cullen, supports Bella when he explains that “it wouldn’t be right to make such a choice for her, to force her.”

Bram Stoker probably never imagined that vampires would represent a religious doctrine. But more than a century later, Twilight shows that these nocturnal creatures can accommodate just about anything.
Angela Aleiss teaches film and religion at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Rachel Gray said...

I skimmed as much of the first three books as the Amazon preview reader would allow, and my own thought is that the Twilight series is just your basic modern bodice-ripper; lots of passion and lust and a strong message throughout that the romantic relationship is what gives meaning to life. Which means it's probably much more dangerous to teenage girls than secret Mormonism or references to the occult would be.

Vincenzo said...

Great point Rachel.