Let me start by saying that I love vampires. I started reading Anne Rice novels at age eleven (even though I didn’t understand half of them, especially the dirty parts) and I might be the biggest Buffy fan you’ll ever meet. I’ve always loved stories about vampires, fantasy, and supernatural stuff, so I had to read Twilight. I tore through those books in about a week, and I enjoyed them, they’re great escapist fantasy, and the real pull (as with a lot of good fiction) is finding out what happens next. They’re predictable, but if you’re like me, sometimes you can’t help but want to see if you’re right about your predictions.
On Friday my fiance and I were supposed to go see Inception, but he surprised me and bought tickets for Twilight Eclipse instead. I’ve made him sit through the last two movies with me, and I really wasn’t going to ask him to see the third because upon re-watching, the second film New Moon is incredibly slow-moving and at times painful in its awkwardness. Eclipse is better, and it has prompted me to write a Twilight post, because it just had to happen. I’m not going to say I think Twilight is brilliant, but I’m also not going to say it’s total crap, because I really don’t believe either of those things are true. It is however, no matter what you think of it, an undeniable phenomenon, and although I know it has been talked about, and talked about, I’m going to talk about it some more. There are spoilers below, but only if you haven’t seen the first two films, or if you care to see the films at all.
The Twilight Saga is a series of four books written by Stephenie Meyer, the novels are world-wide bestsellers with over 100 million copies sold. If you have managed to avoid the news stories, the tabloid coverage of the film’s stars, or the television in general, let me give you a brief summary of Twilight giving as little away as possible.
A boring, typical, teenage girl, Bella Swan, moves to Forks Washington (the rainiest town in America) to live with her father, Charlie, who is the sheriff.
Bella likes headbands and Romeo and Juliet, and I’m not sure what else because what she really likes, more than anything is Edward Cullen, a boy she meets on her first day at Forks High School. Edward is a vampire, he is beautiful, and brooding, and he can read people’s thoughts, everyone’s—except Bella’s. Oh, and he sparkles in the sunlight, making him not so much a scary vampire.
After lots of intense staring, some lip-biting, and heavy breathing, they fall deeply in love and he introduces her to his vampire family. They like to dress in color coordinating outfits, specifically in shades of blue and gray.
The Cullens love Bella, they don’t eat her (or anyone else) because they subsist on large animals, which makes them friendly vampires. There are vampires who kill humans though, the leaders of these vampires are called the Volturi, they also like to dress in matching outfits.
While Bella is dealing with loving a vampire, she finds out her best friend Jacob Black is a werewolf, as are some of his peers in the Quileute tribe of which he is a member. Jacob also loves Bella and can’t wear shirts because they make him itchy.
There is a love triangle, more intense staring, and loads of teenage yearning while Bella gets herself into trouble over and over, constantly needing to be rescued. Werewolves hate vampires, and Bella is caught between, and that’s pretty much what you need to know.
So, now that we’ve covered that, let me get down to it. Bella is often called an anti-feminist character, she shows little if no strength, she is constantly being saved by, or in need of saving by, a handsome dominating male. The only real thing we know about Bella is how much she loves Edward. Of all the characters in Twilight she is given the least dimension. Everything she does is motivated by her love for Edward, she is willing to give up anything for him, her body, her life, and her soul. In the process she is knocked around and fought over like, for lack of a better word, an object. It’s obvious why she isn’t a great role model for young girls. The story isn’t really about Bella anyway, it’s about the fantasy of being “special”.
I truly believe that Twilight is a teenage girl’s fantasy. The daydreams I had as a teenager, and I think were shared by many, of meeting someone who plucked you out of the masses, who was interesting themselves, and declared you different and interesting too. Really the whole idea of Bella is that she is somehow special, despite being completely ordinary and otherwise uninteresting. There is no other evidence or reason for Bella’s specialness aside from Edward’s interest in her.
We know that Edward plays piano, we know that Jacob is an amateur mechanic, but Bella doesn’t seem to have a hobby. She cooks for her dad and she does her homework. On the HBO series True Blood, which is based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, Sookie finds herself in a very similar situation to Bella—but she fights, she’s tough, and she learns how to take care of herself, in other words, she has a personality. She is driven by far more than her love of her suitors, and the love triangle she is stuck in is partially because she gets pissed that both men treat her like an object, so she’s conflicted about both of them. The character of Bella is like a void, she is a blank slate that any girl can project herself onto, and I think that is part of what has made Twilight the phenomenon it has become.
I don’t think it’s that Sookie is braver than Bella, or that she is saved any less than Bella, but she is fully flesh to us. It’s that Sookie talks about her life, all the little details of it, in a very personal and realistic way. Of course she is supposed to be about seven years older, but there are plenty of teenage characters who manage to feel real to us on paper. For a story that is told in a first person narrative, Bella’s decisions and inner dialogue seem to repeat a loop of “Edward, Edward, Edward“. Bella loves Edward so deeply that she is fully prepared to give up her life and family—fake her own death essentially, in order to be with him.
In the film Eclipse there is a scene where Bella, who at this point is expecting to be bestowed eternal life by Edward, says her last goodbye to her mother (although her mother has no idea). While watching the scene I was surprised by the ease of it, It touched me only because I was thinking how difficult it would be for myself in that situation. The scene isn’t an error in translation from book to film, the treatment of Bella’s determination to be made vampire is almost glossed over with just a few—”oh, I’ll miss my parents” thrown in there. I’ve read a lot of fantasy, and usually when a similar choice comes about (which it so often does) the protagonist chooses against it, because it’s just too painful and wrong somehow, or they have their hand forced and live to regret it, but Stephenie Meyer gives the teenage girl inside of us that forbidden choice, and barely even takes note of the hardship that truly comes with it.
It’s lovely to live in a fantasy where you can give yourself over completely to another world, forgetting those you leave behind, or better yet, managing to have it all at once without consequence, but there is something about it that just rings false. Life is painful, and the decisions we make when we’re young can sometimes be so damaging that we spend the rest of our lives regretting them. There is so little real threat in the Twilight saga, the werewolves and the vampires warm up to each other almost too quickly (too bad Capulet and Montague didn’t have to battle an army of vampires) and it’s nice that they work things out, but it’s just too easy.
Feminism is all about choice, so I can’t call Bella an anti-feminist character, I may not agree with the choices she makes, but she (and Stephenie Meyer) have the right to make them, and that right should be protected rather than condemned. I still couldn’t feature Twilight in my weekly Beauty in the Movies post, because although though the films can generally pass the Bedchel test, I can’t get behind Bella as a role model, I’m a child of the Buffy generation, and I think there is more to being a woman than just choosing who to love, even if it can be fun to read about it.
I tried for a long time to justify Twilight as a valid piece of literature with a real message, just because I wanted to believe that a story that resonates so deeply with so many people must be more than just a happy accident. But here’s the thing, I really think that’s all it is. I think Stephenie Meyer stumbled on something, and though she is obviously talented in that she could sit down and write four novels (all her haters, where are your bestselling novels, huh?) I don’t think the real message of Twilight is useful for anyone. As much as I’ve heard fans of the series try to justify the message as meaningful—the vampires and werewolves show tolerance for each other, or Bella finds acceptance in a world where she feels like an outsider, the message that really, undeniably jumps off the page, is that when you love someone you sacrifice everything, even if it changes who you are—just because you love them, no matter the consequence. We all love happy endings, but the stories that resonate deeply are the ones where something was gained and lost, or at least learned. I can’t say that Twilight gives you any of those things, but that doesn’t make it crap.
Twilight taps into a part of our collective unconscious, or at least mine and loads of teenage girls. It seems to resonate in some way, it’s deeply escapist and obviously romantic. It’s a love triangle, a battle of fire and ice, vampire vs. werewolf, chastity vs. sin, and of course Edward vs. Jacob. More than anything it’s a good story, but it’s not Romeo and Juliet, or Harry Potter, or Buffy, all those stories involve complex sacrifices, growth, pain that can’t be mended, and choices that are so hard it’s almost unbearable—and that’s what makes them transcend the realm of fantasy, what makes them human, and what makes us feel a part of them.
Oh my gosh I could go on about this forever, but I’m not sure if people are interested. So let me know if you are—hate Twilight so much you’re pissed I even brought it up? Let me know! Love Twilight so much you hate me for saying anything bad about it? Let me know too!
Also, why is it that the werewolf has a waxed chest and the vampire who is supposedly made of stone, has very visible chest fuzz? Thoughts? Anyone?