5 reasons why the Twilight saga series succeeded:
1. We still want to believe in love
The Twilight saga was not a series of shallow, cutsie chick flicks. The series connected with people because it depicted a kind of fierce love people want to believe is still possible – a love you fight for, risk for, walk through fire and rain for… die for if necessary. The kind of love that lasts, endures, protects, transcends and transforms our very being, what our life is about, and who we are in the world. The “love wins” theme is central to the Twilight series.
2. We long to transcend ourselves
People feel trapped inside themselves. We go through life taking on others’ definitions of who we are or “should” be. We become so contorted by the expectations of others – peers, family, culture, religion – that we lose ourselves and don’t know who we are apart from the roles and scripts that have been imposed upon us. You’ll never understand Twilight until you see Bella, Edward and Jake as people achieving in their own way what Abraham Maslow identified as the highest need and longing of humankind – self-actualization. If you paid attention, she didn’t become a vampire just to get Edward. She often spoke of having a sense that this was who she really was and longed to be. People go through life behind a mask, and we long to come out from behind it to reveal and express our true selves! We want to be free even if it requires some of our own blood to get there.
3. We know it’s complicated
Life can’t be shrink-wrapped with theology or nicely packaged up in all our philosophical, spiritual and positive-thinking systems and formulas. Life defies explanation. We can’t be protected from life – you can run into all the theology and philosophy you want, but you can’t hide. Here’s the deal – sometimes life is a gamble against all odds, sometimes it’s danger, suffering, random, unpredictable, paradox, and almost always mystery. Sometimes you bleed. Your heart is broken because life doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped, but then it offers you something better than what you could have imagined. That’s how life goes – sometimes you fall in love with a vampire, sometimes you hurt people you didn’t intend to, sometimes you have to leave something valuable behind in order to have what you really want. Stories don’t end how or when you thought they would. You don’t know what’s going to kill you first – the beauty of it all or the sorrow of it. People know they can’t find real happiness by pretending or denying that the above isn’t true.
4. We want to belong
Would you become a vampire to truly and finally belong – to be accepted and wanted for who and what you are? Would you want to be part of a family that protects you at any cost, looks out for, fights for and sacrifice for your best interests? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that we could trust and count on people to be true, to never leave or abandon us, be there, and show up in our time of need? Please! Sign me up! Bite my neck, suck my blood, whatever it takes – I want this, I need this!
5. We wrestle with being human and divine
Edward knew there was some part of him missing by being a vampire. Bella knew there was some part of her missing by being human. In the end, they gave birth to a daughter who was some mysterious mixture of both. We are human beings created in the image of God but where does the human part end and the God part begin? In a way, Jesus just complicated matters further by somehow being both all at once. It is the fundamental question of our existence… who am I… what am I? What are we capable of? There is a natural and supernatural world happening around us in every moment. Which is which, and when? Is there a veil separating two worlds, and what’s out there that I’m not seeing with human eyes?
For at least the above 5 reasons, the Twilight saga series touched a nerve. It’s amusing when I come across Christian people who criticize and condemn the films, a la Harry Potter-haters. If I was a seminary professor I would require every student to see all five films. The church world is normally obsessed with being “relevant.” Maybe they could learn something from Twilight in seeing that love, transcendence, honesty about the human condition, belonging, and the mystery of being divine and human… connects deeply with people.