In a scene in the movie “Twilight,” Edward (Robert Pattinson) is telling his love interest Bella (Kristen Stewart): “It would be better if we weren’t friends, not that I don’t want to be. If you were smart, you’d stay away from me.”
Psychologists Jeremy Clyman and Ryan M. Niemiec consider it to be a “very important positive psychology film” as they say in their review article Temperance: The Quiet Virtue Finds a Home.
In his summary of their review, Niemiec writes that they are taking “a closer look at the character strength of self-regulation, one of the least endorsed strengths across the world and one of the least portrayed in film.
“One of the film’s protagonists, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), is a paragon for self-regulation in the way in which he maintains exquisite, healthy control of his emotions, impulses, and instincts.
“Edward tries hard to display self-control as he faces a crescendo of challenges in which he must continue to develop his ‘muscle’ of self-control. Numerous scenes show him resisting. Although he struggles honestly, exclaiming, ‘I still don’t know if I can control myself,’ he is successful in his efforts.”
From Self-Regulation on the Silver Screen [on the PsycCRITIQUES site; includes link to review article]
Not just hormones
And this struggle, of course, is not simply about good ol’ raging teen hormones; as a vampire, Edward feels intense lust for human blood, even Bella’s – and even though he and his family have vowed not to feed on humans.
The full review explains, “Self-regulation (self-control) is a character strength that involves being disciplined and in control of feelings, behaviors, impulses, and thoughts.
“It is an acquired strength that comes with maturation and training. Good self-control has been linked to healthier interpersonal relationships, better mental health, and superior academic performance.
Teens who self-control achieve more
“Indeed, adolescents who score high on self-control measures outperform their more impulsive peers on a number of variables of academic performance such as report card grades, standardized achievement test scores, admission to competitive high schools, and school attendance.”
The authors give specific examples of Edward practicing self-control:
“As a vampire, Edward has heightened sensory perception. In an early scene, he covers his nose when he is around Bella, limits his eye contact with her, and, upon learning he cannot drop out of biology class with her, exclaims, ‘I’ll just have to endure it.’
“Here, evidence of admirable self-control begins to mount. Bella, of course, takes personal offense, perceiving these behaviors as disgust and repulsion.
“She does not see that Edward’s self- regulation resource is being depleted, which would result in a much greater chance that he might act upon his desire (and potentially ‘consume’ her).
“Edward skips class for two days—this wise decision gives him a chance to build up his self-regulation resource, as he returns refreshed and ready to engage in healthy interpersonal communication.
“Throughout Twilight, Edward displays intense craving and attraction to Bella, but he holds himself back. He describes his attraction and desire for her: ‘We learn to control our thirst. It’s you. Your scent. It’s like a drug to me. You’re like my own personal brand of heroin.'”
Positive Psychology At The Movies: Using Films to Build Virtues and Character Strengths, by Ryan M. Niemiec, Danny Wedding
Another book of theirs: Movies And Mental Illness: Using Films To Understand Psychopathology
Peterson & Seligman, Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification
Also see Reel Therapy – Unraveling the mind through film. Psychology Today blog by Jeremy Clyman