November 16, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Parents with children who are thinking of watching the latest Twilight film, Breaking Dawn – Part I, should be aware that it features disturbing discussions about abortion that carry ambiguous, if not openly anti-life messages, according to a professor at a Canadian college.
In this fourth film, set for release on Friday, heroes Bella and Edward get married and then are shocked to discover on the honeymoon that Bella is pregnant. The story appears to carry a strong pro-life message, as Bella quickly realizes that her life is at risk but chooses to keep the half-vampire, half-human child despite strong pressure from Edward and other characters for her to obtain an abortion.
“All Bella wants is for that baby to survive and she’s willing to kill herself for it,” comments actress Nikki Reed in a promo video.
In a society that largely accepts abortion-on-demand, let alone abortion to save the mother’s life, the storyline comes across as strongly counter-cultural. Indeed, the book sparked fan protests over a perceived “anti-abortion” theme when it was released in 2008.
But Dr. Christine Schintgen, assistant professor of literature at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, argues that the pro-life angle is “superficial” and is “counter-balanced” by stronger anti-life messages that are communicated by the power of imagery.
‘The fetus is incompatible with your body’
Poignantly, as Bella’s pregnancy gets dangerous, the character Carlisle declares: “The fetus is incompatible with your body.”
Schintgen says that this is a theme that runs through the entire conflict around the pregnancy, playing into arguments by abortion advocates that pit the child against the mother.
“It creates the image of a fetus as monster,” said Schintgen. “In this case, it’s literally true. The fetus is portrayed as this freakish, monstrous life form.”
She noted that director Bill Condon, who is known for directing one of the gory Candyman films, has described Breaking Dawn – Part I as a combination of romance and horror. But according to Schintgen, “There’s a way in which the fetus acts as the source of the horror.”
“It reminds me a little bit of the scenes from Alien, where you’ve got this alien life-form inside you that’s destroying you. That’s definitely not a pro-life image,” she explained.
“Of course no woman’s going to think, ‘oh I’ve got a vampire in me.’ They know the difference intellectually. But I’m talking about the power of imagery,” she said.
A model of chastity who advocates abortion?
Schintgen emphasized that the example of Bella’s heroic act is counter-balanced by Edward’s intense efforts to coerce her into an abortion. She said Edward’s actions are a particularly strong counter-witness given that he is repeatedly held up for his “traditional” values, and served as the primary model of purity for those contending the books carry a chastity message.
“It kind of gets young women used to the idea that normal and admirable people would push for an abortion,” she explained. “Yes Bella stands up to them, and in the context, super-heroically at the cost of basically her own mortal existence. But is that really what’s going to win over in their own lives if they’re in a crisis pregnancy?”
“It certainly gives the impression that abortion would have been a legitimate and normal option,” she added.
Valuing the baby devalues the woman?
She also argues that the storyline could lend credence to claims by abortion advocates that pregnancy is dangerous and carries a real risk of maternal death if abortion is not available.
Schintgen says the story’s horrid depiction of the child’s birth, during which Bella’s spine breaks and which she survives only by becoming a vampire, sends a “troubling” message to youth about childbirth by “twisting it into something unnatural.”
She said that “for young women who are in a position of being pregnant, this scene would create negative associations in their mind surrounding birth.”
Further, because Bella would have died had she not become a vampire, the story could make it seem that death would have been the normal result of her refusing the abortion.
“It kind of resonates with that sense of the annihilation of the woman,” said Schintgen, “the idea that if we give value to the baby, we are necessarily at the same time devaluing the woman.”
Broken headboard and beat-up woman – the “perfect honeymoon”?
The professor also expressed serious concerns regarding the story’s portrayal of sexuality, especially the fact that it seems to glorify violent sex.
The couple’s wedding night has been, by far, the most anticipated aspect of the film. According to director Bill Condon, “These are books that have become very important to millions of people and every one of those people fantasizes about what that perfect honeymoon looks like.”
But in the course of their consummation, which is depicted on-screen, Edward breaks the headboard and sends pillow feathers flying everywhere. In the book, Bella wakes up the next morning black and blue.
Schintgen has in the past opposed claims that the series is “pro-chastity,” arguing that it actually celebrates lustful and purely recreational sex. While Edward and Bella abstain before marriage, she said, they have an unhealthy “obsession with sex divorced from any desire for children.”
“They both assume going into the marriage that they are not able to have children, nor would they want any if they could,” she explained. Their union is “divorced from any sense of the purpose of marriage, which should be unitive but also open to bringing new life into the world.”
An R-rated film edited down to PG-13: ‘We didn’t hold anything back’
A Miami Herald article Wednesday revealed that the first cut of Breaking Dawn – Part I earned an R rating, as anticipated by fans because of the mature themes, but the filmmakers explain that they were able to edit it down to PG-13 without “hold[ing] anything back.”
“More than anything, I wanted to make sure that the intensity of two specific things — the first time they make love during their honeymoon and the birth scene — wasn’t watered down,” Condon, who also directed the 2004 biopic on sexologist Alfred Kinsey, told the Herald. “It turns out that allowing the audience to use their imaginations to fill in what’s happening makes the scene even more powerful.”
“Twilight has always had the potential to be a horror movie, but it hasn’t quite embraced it until we get to this story,” he added. “I hope it doesn’t upset the girls too much. We’ll see.”
“People assume a great deal was edited out of the movie in order to get the PG-13,” said screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. “But we didn’t hold anything back. In fact, when it came to the birth scene, I was going to cut out the, um, sort of Caesarean, if you will. [Edward rips Bella’s stomach and womb open with his fangs to deliver the baby.] I was saying ‘We don’t really need to see that.’ But Bill was like ‘No no no. It’s gotta be in there.’”
The PG-13 rating states “Parents strongly cautioned,” and warns about “sexuality” and “partial nudity.”
“What they’ve done is to take very disturbing and dark thematic material, but in terms of the actual visual presentation and language, they’ve kept it just this side of the border between PG-13 and R,” explained Schintgen.
Morally muddled treatment of fundamental issues
Schintgen said she felt a need to raise concerns about Twilight because “people might be taken in by the partially good message in it, the half-truths that are presented by a superficial exposure to the film.”
“On the surface there is a pro-life message, but that’s often how we can be fooled,” she explained. “If there’s an element of good, we kind of take the whole package. And I think the whole package is very problematic to say the least.”
“If you confuse young people on these fundamental issues, which is what a morally muddled treatment of the issues will do, then you’re really setting them up for a fall,” she warned.