Conservative Imprinting In 'Eclipse'?

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What do young people want? They want to be individuals, but they also want to belong. And they want structure and hierarchy in their lives, even if that structured hierarchy limits their freedom. Yet in such limits to freedom, they find hope, and maybe even happiness. That’s the takeaway from “Eclipse,” the new movie, which opened this week, which is destined to be one of the summer’s blockbusters. How much of a blockbuster? Well, consider this, according to Brandon Gray's site Box Office "Eclipse" broke the midnight opening record, raking in over $30 million. "New Moon" was the previous title holder with $26.3 million.

“The Twilight Saga,” of which “Eclipse” is the third of four novels, is the stuff of book publishing legend. Stephenie Meyer’s teen-vampire romance was rejected by 14 literary agents before finally being accepted and published in 2005, whereupon it immediately zoomed to the top of the best-seller lists. Today, Meyer makes an estimated $50 million a year. -- In terms of pop culture impact, “Twilight” is exceeded only by J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books.

And every year since 2008, the books have become movies. And if the squeals of “Twihards” throughout a sneak preview the other night in Washington DC are any indicator, “Eclipse” is going to be the third straight hit.

Vampires, of course, have been a staple of popular culture since Bram Stoker published the novel “Dracula” back in 1897. Bela Lugosi, star of the 1931 film, forever immortalized the vampire as a romantic figure; the count is dashing in a white tie, mysterious and also mesmerizing with his gleamy eyes and old European accent. And when Dracula hears wolves howling in the distance, he says in his lilting voice, sending a chill up our spine: “The children of the night--what sweet music they make.”

The lead character in “Twilight” is named Bella, perhaps in homage to Lugosi. And “Eclipse” features plenty of wolves, although they are Native American “shapeshifters”; most of the time, the male members of the Quileute tribe stand around shirtless, looking hunky, but when they fight, they fight as a wolfpack.

Thus “Eclipse” puts a new spin on old yarns. Like all young people, Bella yearns to discover herself, even as she deals with awkwardness and alienation. As she says, “I never felt normal . . . And I don’t want to be.”

Yet she expresses her individuality not by rebelling against authority, but by behaving within the structure of authority--the pre-modern authority of chastity. It’s hard and lonely, but she restrains herself, as do her two co-stars. They are all tempted by the flesh in various ways, but they abide by ancient moral codes. Even in a darkened theater, one can sense the conservative imprinting on the youthful audience.

This is the genius of the movie: It’s an argument for restraint, for delayed gratification. Yes, it’s a familiar love triangle; there’s the girl, Bella, and two boys, each vying for her affection. OK, in this case, it’s a bit different: One boy, Edward, is a vampire, while the other boy, Jacob, is a wolf, at least part of the time. But Edward is a virtuous vampire; he and his pack of fellow vampires in the Pacific Northwest live quietly in the shadows of everyday life.

As a matter of conscience, Edward’s group doesn’t drink the blood of humans, only animals. And Jacob the wolf-boy is virtuous, too; his main role seems to be to protect Bella, even if that means she can devote herself to Edward.

Bella, the classic damsel in distress, relies on men to protect her, and she will reward only one with her virginity--and, of course, at the same time, her hand in marriage.

Author Meyer, born in 1973, knows full well that she is writing for an audience whose experience is nearly the opposite of restraint and chastity. Teens today exist in a world of relatively few rules. More often than not, the parents are divorced and at work--which means that millions of them are “latchkey kids," they are raising themselves according to the lowest-common-denominator morals of TV.

Does the experience of being unsupervised leave kids yearning for more freedom? No, in most cases, it leaves them yearning for less freedom, perhaps so that they can learn the security of boundaries, perhaps so that they can protect themselves from predators of various kinds.

Meyer herself was married at 21 and is still married to the same man. She and her husband have three children. So she writes about what she knows, in her own way, extolling a conservative personal lifestyle. And those millions who are buying her books and seeing her movies are thus joining in Meyer’s quest for propriety, order, and structure.

To be sure, villains abound in “The Twilight Saga,” but they are the opposite of the central characters. The “newborns”--vampire slang for recent “recruits” to vampiredom--are violent and rowdy and obviously voracious. In the “Twilight” cosmology, the bad are simply bad.

But then, in keeping with Meyer’s obvious yearning for an overarching conservative chain of being, we meet the Volturi, the aristocracy of the vampire world, based in Rome. The Volturi are more good than bad; they keep order among vampires, destroying those who transgress too far against the human race.

The Volturi look like characters out of “Wuthering Heights”; they are cool in their capes and cloaks and poetic pallor. The Volturi dispense justice, in their vampire-y way, but they are not merciful. In “Eclipse,” they settle an issue in a way that will jar the audience, although the violence, like most of the violence in the film, is either offscreen or so sped up that one can’t follow the gore. As Edward explains to Bella in one of the novels, the Volturi might seem like villains to a mere mortal, but in the vampire world, “They are the foundation of our peace and civilization.”

Now that’s order. That’s order based on Authority, the origins of which, Meyer tells us, are shrouded in the foggy recesses of long ago.

But even now, in the midst of modern chaos, Authority sits on its mighty throne, attended by a trio of handmaidens--Majesty, Mystery, and History. And Authority will always prevail, because it must.

Does that sound good? If it does, you should go and see the movie. But be prepared to stand behind a lot of kids, making their own sort of pilgrimage to the Authority that they might not have had--and always wanted.

James P. Pinkerton is a writer and Fox News contributor. He is the founder/editor of Serious Medicine

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