Youth Culture Window
A New Moon rose this Friday night in theaters…and your kids didn't miss it. The question is, what did this new film in the Twilight Saga communicate to our kids?
The first film was labeled “harmless” by many, despite its numerous subtle messages. (Hey girls, wouldn’t it be romantic if your boyfriend snuck into your room in the middle of the night and made-out with you on your bed?) Harmless?
However, in the second film, Bella seems to take an emotionally-charged turn that’s self-destructive in nature. Whew! It’s a good thing we don’t live in a world where millions of young girls have low self-esteem and engage in self-destructive behaviors because of it.
So… what did this New Moon look like?
The New Moon is FULL
The Quileute Tribe. The Volturi. Shape-shifters. Many adults may not yet know what these fictional agents have in common, but without a doubt, they combined for the biggest event in youth culture this week.
For months, millions of teenagers have been counting down the days to this past Friday night, November 20th, when New Moon, the second film in the Twilight Saga, was released in theaters around the world.
Youth media and marketing have capitalized on the “pop culture phenomenon” and have taken every opportunity to promote the new film in as many different venues as possible. Tons of websites have been created around the plot and cast (like TheTwilightSaga, TwilightersAnonymous and NewMoonMovie). MTV has highlighted exclusive previews of the upcoming film at both of their awards shows earlier this year and bloggers have been following the cast and speculating about the movie for weeks. When New Moon's soundtrack was recently released, it easily climbed to #1 on the album charts. Further, The Twilight Saga has even caused other TV networks to offer their own version of vampire stories given the success of this franchise. And of course, vampire merchandise has generated incredibly high sales in several retail stores.
The release of New Moon set a new box office record for its first night in theaters, taking in $72.7 million on Friday (which was even more than The Dark Knight's first night take of $67.2 million). Summit Entertainment (the studio behind the films) even offered a special a one-night-only showing of the first film, Twilight, on November 19th, one day before the release of New Moon. Why not? That film raked in over $70 million on its opening weekend when it hit theaters in November of last year.
So, yeah, this New Moon was big! And though we’re not meteorologists, even we saw this lunar eclipse coming; New Moon out shined everything else in theaters.
Here's what all the buzz is about....
The Plot Thickens
According to the movie New Moon, the relationship between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) has only deepened since we left them in Twilight, a box-office sensation based on the worldwide bestseller written by Stephenie Meyers. As New Moon’s story opens, the fragile and mortal teenage girl is about to turn 18 – and thus “older” than her eternally youthful and immortal 17 year old vampire boyfriend – and the milestone only serves to remind her again that she is not what she wants to be…a vampire like him.
The Cullen family throws Bella an 18th birthday party, but the festive occasion quickly turns deadly when Bella suffers a paper cut that sends one of the younger, more immature, vampires into a feeding frenzy. The terrifying event helps Edward clearly see how dangerous his vampire family (and kind) can be to Bella, and so the Cullens decide to leave Forks, Washington, and Bella, forever.
Edward’s absence sends the high school senior into a whirlwind of despair, and nothing can ease the pain of her broken heart. Not even her handsome, childhood friend, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) who exists in a mysterious secret of his own. Fully embracing her star-crossed lover status, Bella begins to take hazardous risks with her life, with each one being more outlandish than the last, just so she can be comforted by images and thoughts of Edward in those desperate moments of peril. (More on these behaviors in a moment.)
The journey that Bella is on is not only fraught with danger, but discovery. In spite of her self-destructive tendencies, Bella’s greatest threat could be from an enemy who has returned since the Cullen’s are no longer present to offer her protection. When she’s miraculously rescued from a vampire attack by enormous werewolves, she learns that one of the beasts is none other than her friend Jacob, a member of the mysterious Quileutes Tribe. Let the love triangle begin.
Meanwhile, Edward receives word that his beloved Bella has died, so he too, assumes the fate of a star-crossed lover, and visits the Italian Volturi (the vampire royalty), to seek his own death. When the living Bella discovers Edward’s true intentions, she embarks on an international race against time to save Edward and their relationship. Little does she know that this will be her most dangerous journey yet.
So, what did our kids really see when they flocked to theaters this past weekend?
The Man in the Moon…Wasn’t Wearing a Shirt
New Moon has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for "some violence and action." Twilight shared the same PG-13 rating, but in addition to the same sort of violence, it also carried a warning about "a scene of sensuality." The sensuality is what concerned us in last year's Youth Culture Window article about Twilight. Even though New Moon's film didn't have any overtly sensual scenes, it's guaranteed to have sex appeal.
For instance, movie goers heard young girls across the theater shriek in glee when Jacob took off his shirt (revealing a new, chiseled body) to wipe away some of Bella's blood after her motorcycle accident. Some of the movie's promotional material - which features Taylor Lautner shirtless - have some crying "double standard."
By the way, those same movie goers heard another round of pre-pubescent female's verbal euphoria when Edward removed his shirt as he faced the Volturi in Italy.
Even though there were these kinds of scenes in New Moon, it wasn't as sexually charged as Twilight was. Most agree: New Moon was more focused on action and less focused on sensuality.
Ironically, it's some of those action scenes that have a few folks concerned about the messages the film might be sending to young people, girls in particular.
Emo Bella Goes Self-Destructive
As previously mentioned, Edward's absence from Bella's life catapults the hyper emotional girl into a depression-like state. Somehow sensing that his presence will send her reeling, Edward tells Bella at his departure, "Please, just promise me, you won't do anything reckless."
In spite of Edward's plea, Bella soon realizes that in her self-inflicted harrowing moments - like zooming on a motorcycle without a helmet or jumping off the cliffs at the beach - she has glimpses of Edward, and in those moments, she feels close to him. So, her potentially self-destructive behavior is rewarded by images of Edward...and the very real presence of the oh-so-cute Jacob.
Some wonder what this plotline might teach today’s insecure young girls about dealing with breakups, losses, and setbacks. (Depressed? Throw yourself off a cliff into the sea and hope that a shirtless stud plucks you from the waters.)
While some New Moon viewers simply dismissed the fictional Bella's reactions because they see her as "overly sensitive and emotionally pathetic," others had concerns that this might be imitatable behavior for our non-fiction girls.
Either way it's interpreted, this subplot in the blockbuster will require some parental influence.
Movie...and a Dinner
If parents are going to allow their kids to see the film, we suggest that parents see the flick with their kids and then discuss it immediately thereafter. And since nothing opens the doors to honest conversation better than a meal, why not make it a "dinner and a movie?"
Our kids will be getting their peers' movie reviews that same weekend via text, and definitely at lunch in the cafeteria on Monday at school...even if our kids didn't see the film on opening weekend. Parents might consider being proactive and seeing the film together with their kids so that trustworthy dialogue happens on the frontend before everyone else gets a chance to weigh in. After all, one of the key pieces of advice offered to parents by the American Academy of Pediatrics in their recent “Media Violence” report was “co-viewing” this kind of media with their kids.
The verdict is still out on exactly what kind of messages this film will communicate. But parents who buy two tickets for New Moon, one for them and one for their child, can regulate every message that comes through, good or bad.
After all, there are scarier things in our world than vampires and werewolves.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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