In keeping with my tendency for jumping on bandwagons once the fad is well past the station, I watched Twilight this weekend. There are a few reasons but mostly it comes down to I was curious. Twilight has become a bit of a pop-culture legend. I’ve never met anyone who had watched the movies or read the books and was indifferent to them. Oddly, both the books and the movies seem to be held up by a lot of people as a precedent of BADNESS. So horrible in fact that the Twilight specter seems to linger over most Tween entertainment, and reduce that particular term to a pejorative. I had been resisting tween stuff in most forms but I finally watched the Hunger games not too long ago and found it not bad. Derivative but certainly well-executed and entertaining. I sat down and watched it this week and…man…I LOVE it.
The movie is just a symphony of awkward dialogue spoken by terrible and unbelievable characters. I say this without hyperbole: I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie all year. It is a failure but I’m fascinated by WHY it fails. Let’s run through it. Bella moves to a small town in Washington to live with her Dad. She’s a girl who struggles mightily to assemble complete sentences and yet for the sake of exposition shorthand, is instantly adopted by a gaggle of teenage archetypes, including Anna Kendrick.
The friends, I forgot their names instantly, exposition Bella through the school including the student Cullen’s. Bella discovers she and Edward Cullen have a class together. Edward struggles through the entire class as though he’s just gotten his first erection and isn’t sure what to make of it. Through a massive coincidence, Bella catches him trying to transfer out and he makes no attempt to avoid her hearing how it’ll be a struggle to sit next to her.
That night, on the phone with her mother, Bella gets all bent out of shape when her mother asks if the students are being nice, despite the fact that half the school adopted this uncooked piece of tofu on her first day for absolutely no reason. She ignores her friends and decides to confront handsome McMeanypants about that one time he wasn’t nice to her. They make a very awkward conversation and that afternoon he saves her from being crushed in a parking lot. At the hospital, the two of them exchange the most bizarre conversation as Bella tries to wrap her mind around what she just saw. Who talks like this? Was this script written in an African click language and then run through Google Translate? Probably actually…Google is in this movie a lot.
That night Bella wakes up and finds Edward in her bedroom. OR DID SHE? She finds herself dreaming of Edward more often and ignoring her friends who actually treat her well. Edward tells her if she’s smart she’ll stay away from him. “Let’s say for argument sake I’m not smart.” Oh, I don’t think we need to agree on that purely for the sake of argument. Smart people can see that that’s a squeeze bottle. Edward suggests he may be the bad guy in the story. Really? Because to me so far he reminds me of multiple Miggs, Hannibal Lecter’s neighboring cellmate in the Silence of the Lambs. “I can smell your cunt.” Bella and her charming group of friends head to the beach and run into Jacob.
Jacob shares a legend in which his people, descended from Wolves made a treaty with the Cullen’s who showed up on their land 100 years ago. Bella Google’s more information about it and decides to go shopping at a Native American bookstore. Afterward, she gets cornered by 4 small town rapists. Edward thunders up in…his…Volvo and scares the rapists by growling out them. Yeah, Edward you monster. SAFETY FIRST. So Edward takes Bella to dinner and he explains he feels protective of her and that he can read minds. Hmm…weird. One of Bella’s father’s friends has been killed by an animal (it was vampires.) This spurs in her realization. She goes home and Google’s more stuff, discovering the ancient history of vampires. In the montage, she finally understands what Edward is. I just want to point out, we’re 45 minutes into the movie at this point aaaaand….nothing has really happened. Edward saved Bella aaaaaand….that’s it. The rest has JUST been exposition. People sitting around talking awkwardly.
THAT’S IT. There really is no PLOT to speak of. For reference sake, At 45 minutes in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Joel has discovered Clementine has had her memory of him erased and is well along the process of having his memory of her erased. He’s about to figure out that he doesn’t want to. 45 minutes into Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare has begun production of Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s daughter and fallen in love with Viola, the woman playing Romeo who has just been bought by a fat Colin Firth. *you are allowed to show your pleasure.* 45 minutes into Lost in Translation we’ve established that Scarlett Johanssen and Bill Murray are having identity crises.
Scarlett’s husband might be cheating on him with Cameron Diaz and she and Bill Murray have set out on a bonding quest through the city. And THAT movie is slow as balls. Sure Bella has been trying to figure out what Edward is but we the audience saw the trailer for the movie. We already know. I imagine, ‘Edward is a Vampire’ was sentence 3 on the back of the dust jacket. So if the dialogue weren’t just so joyfully terrible there would be nothing to keep us interested. Just pretty people standing around. It’s like watching a 45 minute animated Gif of Tiger beat.
It’s not enough to put two pretty people in orbit of each other and call it a night. After her shocking revelation, at school the next day Bella walks off campus into the woods for NO reason and Edward follows her. She’s just found out he’s a historical murdering monster so obviously, the best choice of action is to be alone in a vast wood with him. She tells him she’s figured out what he is while a drunk camera guy swings through the forest…because moody. Edward drags Bella up the mountain out of the cloud bank and into the sunlight. He throws her on his back and super runs up the hill. Oh, God.
This movie is awesome. Edward stands in a shaft of light and sparkles. Why did she have to see this Glitter vamp? Is it because chicks dig bling? So, revealed in all his sparky sparkliness Edward goes on about how he’s a killer, has killed before, and wants to kill her. “I trust you.” WHY? WHY DO YOU TRUST HIM? WHY? Because he saved you from therapists? Maybe he doesn’t like other people stealing his French fries. Bella and Edward eventually just confess their love for each other, and how dumb they are for being that way.
They share a romantic stare-a-thon in a meadow and come out as a couple at school the next day. An hour in and still more exposition. Edward takes Bella to his house so she can stand around and have an awkward conversation with his family. He shows Bella a wall of graduation gowns and explains that he’s been in high school for many many years. No joke. 108 year old who has nothing better to do than relive high school over and over again. Edward shows Bella his room and the two of them go Tarzaning through Washington forests. I just want to point out again, there is no plot being moved forward. No question the main characters are struggling to figure out. We’re watching two pretty people climb a tree and hover hand each other. There’s a b-story involving murder with her Dad that we know nothing about and has nothing to do with our main characters. Edward pops into Bella’s bedroom while she’s on the phone, ignoring any privacy or personal space. Again she doesn’t care. He tells her don’t move and then kisses her.
Then tells her to stop it and she apologizes? And instead of doing the naughty they sit around all night and talk. And then the least scary vampires in the history movies invite Bella to play to baseball…which they have to play in a thunderstorm because the sound of their bats hitting the ball is so loud it would draw attention otherwise. I’m not making this up. Sparkle vampires, who love to play baseball in the rain because of their mighty cracks. Its AMAZING Incomes to the actual vampire murderers.
They have a staredown standoff and the meany-vampires ask to play. One of the mean-Pires gets a whiff of Bella and the game is off. Edward has one of his manic freakouts and they go four-wheeling away. He explains he read the ponytails mind and discovered the ponytail won’t ever stop tracking her. Hey, look! A plot kind of. We’re an hour and twenty minutes in friends. Bella decides the only way to keep her Dad safe is to emotionally injure the only likable character in the movie. She tells her Dad she has to leave because he’s not a good enough father, all for the benefit of the ponytail that is overhearing everything. As Bella and Edward drive away she happens to spy all her friends having fun and laughing together as she passes them in the night. I think we’re SUPPOSED to feel bad for her as her great life is torn from her but I really felt like Bella was being forced to consider the tragic consequences of her own TERRIBLE decisions made throughout the movie. Edward and Bella flee to Phoenix followed by the ponytail.
Ponytail tells Bella to come to see him alone or he’ll kill her mother. Bella monologues on the way over: “I can’t really regret the decisions that made me come face to face with death.” Really? Cause you made a lot of bad decisions. Eh. I guess I can understand why. (Ketchup bottle) Ponytail tortures Bella. Edward shows up to save her but Bella gets bit. In order to save her from becoming a vampire, he has to suck the vampire venom out of her arm. Bella wakes up in the hospital her Mom expositions her unconscious time, along with the lies the Cullen’s made up for the benefit of her parents. Edward and she go to prom together and Bella asks Edward to change her. He refuses. Movie ends. I’m not entirely sure WHY he refuses to turn her though. In this universe, there seem to be VERY few consequences to being a vampire. You get super strength. Super speed. Super jumpiness. You get to be all blinged out in the sun. Seems like the worst consequence is vampire vegetarianism.
Edwards description of his interest in Bella is very informing as to the nature of these kinds of a relationship dying star teenage implosion movies. There are great lines in the history of romances: This obsessive, I want to curl up in your arms and die kind of love story is not limited to teenage entertainment but it certainly seems much more common to it and they’re easily prone to becoming tedious because the characters often have no lives but each other. Let’s look at a love story vastly superior to Twilight, the first 10 minutes of ‘Up.’ Spoilers if you haven’t seen Pixar’s Up. Carl and Ellie meet as children and Ellie shows her adventure book expressing her desire to someday see South America. A musical montage shows Carl and Ellie eventually getting married and moving into the old house where they first met.
Their marriage is blissful and they get jobs as a balloon salesman and zookeeper. When they discover that Ellie is unable to have children, they make a pact to save money to travel to South America. However, as the years pass, they are forced to dig into their Falls fund for other obligations. One day, an elderly Carl realizes that, despite living happily together, they never fulfilled their old dream, Carl decides to surprise Ellie on a picnic with tickets to South America. However, Ellie’s declining health puts her in the hospital and she eventually passes away, leaving Carl alone. THAT is a love story and a tragic one.
Though there isn’t any dialogue Carl and Ellie have far more personality than Bella and Edward because they have dreams, careers, and aspirations as individuals. And those things drive the story of their relationship together. I’ve heard Kristen Stewart take a lot of flack for her performance as Bella but I’m not sure that’s fair. Yes, her entire performance is made up of manic ticks and droopy mouth fly catching. Bella is intended to be as relatable as possible, though her relatedness is a cheap device, not a thoughtful conception.
Her only traits are insecurity and awkwardness so that she can be as completely relatable as possible to anyone going through puberty. Sure Kristen Stewart sounds like she took valium before recording the VO but there are no clues in the script as to how Bella is SUPPOSED to sound. She begins the movie with no friends. No interests. No hobbies. Because that would risk alienating the target audience. And this blank slate becomes a consuming obsession of a 108-year-old creature of the night. Neither of them goes through ANY character progression, because once again – target demo. Certainly not like Carl and Ellie.
What little opportunity for drama there is with Edward’s vampirenessness gets completely neutered by Bella’s total lack of fear. Seriously, Edward spends half the movie trying to scare her away and she is never once ambivalent. “You’re more afraid of what they’ll think of you than being in a house full of vampires.” “I’m not scared of you.” If she’s not afraid of them then we the audience certainly aren’t. Of course, then they play rain baseball and she may as well have fallen in love with a clown. It is baffling her blind unmotivated obsession for him. He stalks her, controls her, tells her he wants to kill her and she doesn’t care.
She obsesses over him and the only reason I can come up is that hormones and he’s glitter pretty. But obsession isn’t particularly romantic and this kind of character only seems to make ANY kind of sense in teen fiction. Characters like Bella don’t fare as well as adults. Maybe this is supposed to be masturbation material for people who don’t like to watch porn. Something as effective as a book with a painting of Fabio on the cover – or a piece of monster erotica like Seduced by the Paranormal Tentacle or Mounted By a Monster Under Her Bed Thing is there is no bodice-ripping in this one. In fact, there’s a common theory that says Twilight is abstinence education masquerading as a fantasy romance.
Stephanie Meyers, a practicing Mormon has stated that she stops short of her characters having sex before marriage which in principle I don’t have a problem with. In practice, however, it doesn’t really work because Bella and Edward don’t DO very much other than stand around talking about how much they want each other. Whether on purpose or by accident there is no real plot to speak of here so the movie ends up being ABOUT whether Edward and Bella are going to have sex. If then the story was intended to be a model for healthy behavior to young women I think it backfires badly both on a literal level and a metaphorical level. Bella is a terrible role model. Vampires are already a sexual metaphor at their core.
There’s seduction, penetration, and blood and Edward is heavily sexualized to boot. So Edward needing to CONTROL his inner urges to eat Bella suggests through metaphor that the man is primarily responsible for the direction of sex in a relationship. The man is the lone sexual gatekeeper. But then that message is restated literally in the scene when Edward more or less forces himself on Bella in her own bedroom. And then jumps off of her and blames her for his loss of control. And she APOLOGIZES to him. There is no equality in this relationship. Edward can do as pleases. He has all the power and that power can crush Bella literally and figuratively. Maybe the most horrifying thing in this monster movie is that anyone might take that message as the way things are supposed to work.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the more than passing similarities to a show a love. In Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers falls in love with a 200-year-old vampire named Angel. Their relationship becomes an obsession for them both and like Twilight there are consequences inherent to sex. But where Twilight fetishizes that kind of tedious codependent relationship, Season 2 of Buffy sees it as destructive, and something Buffy must ultimately shed in order to claim her identity and individuality.
Given the amount of money dumped into the franchise, there is some artistry here. The movie is well shot and well directed and as a fellow twitter nerd mentioned it does have a pretty great soundtrack. I can say I definitely enjoyed my time with it. I laughed harder than I have at any movie this year. And if I had a daughter I might use it as an opportunity to sit down with her and share with her all the things to avoid in a relationship. I get it now. Perhaps Robert Pattinson said it best. In an interview after the final movie wrapped he was asked if he took something from the set. He responded, my dignity.