One redeeming quality does not make your book/movie redemptive.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of the Twilight series.  There are many reasons for this–the writing is absolutely atrocious, the plot(??) is weak, the characters are largely uninteresting. . . I could go on.  To be fair, as with most franchises, the book is worlds better than the movie, but in this case that is not saying a whole lot.

Method #693 for improving the Twilight series: Add Dinosaurs.

I understand that there are some people who really enjoy Twilight.  I’m at peace with that.  I don’t understand it, I disagree with it, I may question the sanity of certain friends who enjoy it–but if they are confident enough in their entertainment choices to look me in the eye and say “I like Twilight.  I think it’s a good story.”, then I will respect their personal interests and not offer up a Rifftrax to “improve the experience.”  They don’t have to justify themselves to me.  Frankly, I don’t want them to.  It makes it that much harder to take them seriously.

It is when I start hearing justifications for people’s enjoyment of this series, or more specifically MORAL justification for the series itself, that I have to work very hard to not whip out a tried-and-true facepalm or a choice sarcastic quip.  I’m sure you’ve heard this before–before I knew a lot about the series, I’m ashamed to admit, moral justifications for its existence were on my own lips.  Let’s see if this sounds familiar:

“But it teaches girls about abstinence!”
“Edward’s a good guy because he wants to wait until he gets married before he has sex!”


This bothers me a lot because when people use this logic, they seem to be turning a blind eye to the many ways that this series undermines its own message.  Oh yes, you are correct, Edward and Bella wait until they’re married before they have sex.  Yes, this is a good thing, and a thing that we want our youth to understand is an important part of relationships.  But do we REALLY want our youth emulating the relationship between Edward and Bella?  Really?

-Do we really want to teach our daughters that they are defined by their romantic relationships and relationship conflicts?

-Do we want to teach our daughters to desire boys who toy with their emotions, stalk them and watch them in their sleep (for months!), and compel them to lie to their parents and friends?

I could go on, but I won’t.  Many an excellent post has been written about the dysfunctionality of Edward and Bella’s relationship, and I don’t need to add to them.  My point here is this:

The endorsement of one basic moral value is not enough to morally redeem a movie whose overall premise is flawed or questionable.

Another example of this sort of logic that got bandied about a lot several years ago was the movie Juno.  I personally never saw the movie, as it didn’t look at all interesting to me.  I read and heard enough about the plot to know that it would have bored and annoyed me.  Again, I don’t begrudge anyone a genuine enjoyment of the movie–I understand that many parts of it are funny, and I know lots of people who consider it an excellent movie.  But again, I grit my teeth in frustration when I’m informed of my moral duty to enjoy the movie because “SHE DOESN’T ABORT THE BABY!  SHE PUTS IT UP FOR ADOPTION!”

Really?  Is that the entire message of Juno–that carrying the child to term is important?  Doesn’t it focus on a lot of other themes–themes such as casual sex leading to meaningful and lasting relationships?  The fact that she carries the baby to term is what drives the plot, but is it really what drives the message?  Isn’t the message more about downplaying the supposed negative consequences of having sex/getting pregnant in high school?  Is a cavalier attitude towards teen sex and pregnancy really something we want to be endorsing?

Again, you must take my reflections on Juno with a grain of salt, as I’ve never seen the movie.  But I do believe that the plot of a movie and the theme it is actually trying to convey are two very different things, and this is a distinction that careful consumers of the media should take the time to identify before spouting moral justifications for a movie they liked.

Now, fortunately, this plot vs. theme distinction works both ways–just because a movie addresses subject matter that is a touch on the edgy side doesn’t mean that it is devoid of positive messages for its viewers.  For this example, I get to briefly discuss one of my favorite movies that I’ve seen recently: Warm Bodies.

The convenient lack of decay makes me way hotter than your average dead guy.

Warm Bodies is fun.  It’s a funny, lighthearted take on the zombie tale.  They definitely take many liberties with the genre, liberties which zombie purists may protest, but as someone who is overall neutral to zombie horror I found this depiction both interesting and charming.  And I also found its overall message to be extremely, refreshingly redemptive.

There are many things about this movie that conservative Christians would frown upon.  Zombies and humans alike employ colorful language.  As expected, a fair amount of blood and gore gets splattered about the screen–we are dealing with dead people here, after all.  And yet that is not the message of Warm Bodies.  The message of Warm Bodies is hope.

Throughout the story, the characters of Warm Bodies struggle with one vital question: Can the world be rebuilt?  Can things ever really be good again?  What is the difference between being alive and really living?  Without spoiling anything, I can’t say much, but I will say that the movie answers these questions in satisfying, fresh ways.  Though the worldview of the movie is not spiritual, there are many positive spiritual applications that could be drawn from Warm Bodies.  I would love to do a unit on this movie with a group of teenagers.

One moral does not make a movie “good.” One questionable topic does not make your movie “bad.”  Let’s look at entertainment through the lens of theme and message, rather than overt, preachy moral.

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