Occasionally, there comes a time in a person's life where they have to do something for the sake of their passion that they never thought they would do. To work in a zoo, people with arachnophobia have to handle spiders. People who can't stand bodily fluids, but love babies, have to bite the bullet. And people who like to write movie reviews and editorials have to watch movies they may not care for. That is why I have recently watched all of the Twilight Saga. Fair warning: This is going to be long, but read through to the end. It's worth it. Trust me. Oh, and in case you need it:
For those of you who don't know, the Twilight Saga is a series of films based on the popular series of books written by Stephenie Meyer. The book series is four entries long, but the accompanying film series split the final book into two movies, making it a five-entry long series. It is the story of a teenage girl who moves to a new town with her father and soon falls in love with a boy who is not what he seems. This throws her into a battle wherein she has to fight for love, acceptance, and the right to be happy. And Vampires. And Werewolves. And if I made that plot sound good to you, turn back now. That was our apex.
The Twilight Saga is a beast that I take umbrage with for a couple of reasons, and perhaps not the reasons you may think. The Twilight Saga, firstly, presents us with a protagonist who is completely vacant by design. The books (the first of which I've read until I couldn't handle it any longer) are told from Bella Swan's perspective, yet she is never physically described. More importantly, however, is the fact that the Twilight Saga promotes the ideal that women are completely dependent on male figures for their identities. For a movie that hundreds of thousands of women love, it is one of the most sexist things I've ever seen.
Another reason I am upset at this saga is because it encourages stupid, knee-jerk, impulsive decisions. Overall, there are no lasting negative consequences for any action taken by the main characters in the saga. And that's just irresponsible.
To fully understand why this saga chafes me so much, we have to look at each film individually.
The first in the series is Twilight. Kristen Stewart plays the protagonist, Isabella Swan, a 17-year old who moves to the town of Forks, Washington to live with her father after her mother remarries. The movie chronicles her time in Forks as she gets settled in with her dad, reconnects with her old friend, Jacob Black (Sharkbo—I mean Taylor Lautner) and gets enrolled in her new high school. It doesn't take long for her to meet the Cullen family and the much sought after Edward Cullen, played by Robert Pattinson. Edward and Bella soon hit it off and start dating, leading to Bella being hunted by a roving vampire.
Before any Twihards bite my head off, I want to clarify that the following is simply my opinion. That being said, there is so much wrong with this movie. Its first sin is the egregious use of narration by Bella for the sake of exposition. However, that is forgivable.
Another sin is the ease with which Bella integrates into her new high school. The moment she shows up, she has an entourage, as if her existence made her a celebrity (which isn't difficult to swallow when you consider the fact that Kim Kardashian has a career). That, too, is forgivable.
Yet another sin is the utter disrespect with which the vampires are handled. The vampires in this saga (nearly all of them) are watered-down pansies when compared to established vampire lore. Vampires are supposed to be monsters with nary a shred of humanity left in them. Their sole purpose is to hunt and kill humans. There is no such thing as a 'vegetarian' vampire. Vampires should burn violently when exposed to sunlight, not sparkle like they just fucked a pixie. This saga played fast and very loose with the vampiric rules. However, many pieces of fiction have altered the rules when it comes to supernatural beings. So this can be forgiven.
What cannot be forgiven, however, is Bella. As I mentioned, in the books, Bella is never physically described. This is done so that any woman who reads the books can imagine herself in Bella's place. Somehow, for the film version, this was personified by finding an actress whose only expression is that of passing gas in an elevator. Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Bella left a lot to be desired. My theory is that emoting causes her physical pain. Even during times she was supposed to be happy, she wouldn't smile. I counted one smile from her in the whole movie. Bella was supposed to be a character with whom people could identify. Yet I identify more with my cat's bowel movements than I do with Bella. As a storyteller and movie buff, it aggravates me.
The next film in the series, titled The Twilight Saga: New Moon, takes place shortly after the first movie. With James, the vampire who wanted to kill Bella, now disassembled and incinerated (not an exaggeration), the Cullen's throw Bella a party for her 18th birthday. During the party, Bella gets a paper cut, which causes one of the newer additions to the Cullen family, Jasper (a part occupied by Jackson Rathbone), to go into a blood frenzy. After the Cullen's settle him down, Edward decides to leave Bella because of the danger she would perpetually be in because of him.
This throws Bella into a fit of depression that is only made better by her old friend Jacob, who reveals to her that he is a werewolf. Jacob also tells her that he and his pack are hunting a vampire who is in the area. It turns out that the vampire they are hunting is Victoria, the angry lover of James, who lost his life at the hands of Edward. So Victoria is hunting Bella to get revenge on Bella.
First, let me say that of all of the decisions made by anyone in the entire movie, Edward makes the only intelligent one by leaving Bella. Of course, that decision was nullified when he proposed marriage at the end of the film, but at the time, leaving was the most responsible thing he could have done. For example, if I owe the mob several thousand dollars, and I know that the mob won't hesitate to harm my family to get to me, I'm going to put as much distance between my family and myself in order to keep them safe.
Something interesting that this movie does is introduces “Female Gaze” into the saga. Male Gaze is a technique used in visual media that assumes the viewer is a heterosexual male and directs the gaze of the viewer to images that are appealing to the heterosexual male demographic. Male Gaze is seen all of the time in movies, TV commercials, video games, and a whole gamut of other mediums. This saga capitalizes on Male Gaze's lesser-known counterpart, Female Gaze. More than 60% of the time that Jacob Black is on screen, he is shirtless. The saga found its demographic with the first movie and set out to please them with the second. While I dislike the idea of Male/Female Gaze, at least there is some consistency.
The biggest atrocity that this film commits is Bella's depression over Edward leaving. When I was 19, I fell ass-over-teakettle in love with a girl. At the time, she was all I wanted. Then she left me. And I was absolutely devastated. So I know the feeling of depression over a break-up. Bella takes her depression to pro levels, though. The first thing she does is go searching the woods for Edward for hours before falling. When she falls, she just curls up in the fetal position, ready to die (again, not an exaggeration). Then, after being rescued, which is something I will come back to later, she sits in her room, mopes around for months, and screams bloody murder in the middle of the night. The worst is yet to come, though. Bella discovers that when she is in danger, she hallucinates and sees a vision of Edward. Rather than check herself in to the nearest asylum, she begins putting herself in danger's path so that she can see Edward, culminating in her leaping off of a cliff. Keep in mind, she is doing all of this while Victoria is hunting her.
Why is all of this an atrocity, you ask? Because this movie, watched by hundreds of thousands of little girls worldwide, is teaching girls that they have no identity without a man. That they need a man to rescue them, to define them, and to make them happy. This movie is basically saying “Without a man, life isn't worth living.” New Moon is a big middle finger to women's rights and I have no clue how it is tolerated.
Next in the lineup is The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Eclipse focuses mainly on tensions between Bella, Edward, and Jacob, as well as concluding the Victoria Revenge plot. Essentially, Victoria is turning people into vampires in order to create an army of Newborns to go after Bella. Newborn vampires in this universe are stronger than mature vampires because they still have human blood in their veins (HOORAY INTERESTING STUFF).
For a plot that was three films in the making, Victoria's revenge ended with a bit of a whimper. The Cullen's vow to protect Bella because of Edward, so they team up with the werewolves, who just like killing vampires. This requires both Edward and Jacob to simultaneously use Bella to piss each other off while maintaining a truce. This was easily the most interesting bit of the movie. There is a scene near the end of the movie in which Bella, Edward, and Jacob have to spend a night in the mountains during a blizzard. Bella, unable to get warm, has to cuddle with Jacob (who runs hot because of his werewolfism) in front of the vampirically cold Edward. That scene alone was the most interesting thing in the whole saga, hands down.
The only gripe I really had with this movie was Bella's...'self-importance' isn't quite the right term, but it's the one that comes to mind. She just seems to think that the world owes her and that her actions don't have consequences. Which, to be fair, she seems to be correct about. She knowingly puts dozens of people in danger just so that she can be with Edward. Then, on a whim, she makes out with Jacob after accepting Edwards marriage proposal. Her snotty attitude and selfishness makes her wholly unlikable. That is the same reason I hated Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network. Yet, absolutely no one calls her on her BS.
I have been dreading talking about Breaking Dawn Part 1. I'll tell you why. In The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, nothing happens. Seriously. This movie is so devoid of a plot, it hurt to watch. I was bored out of my skull the whole time. I'll explain. BD1 starts with Bella and Edward's wedding. After the wedding, B&E (not, as Dane Cook would say, bacon & eggs) go on their honeymoon and have a lot of sex for two weeks and look at each other. Then Bella starts to feel strange, which leads them to the realization that Bella is pregnant (something that is supposed to be impossible, I guess). They fly back to Forks and stay with the Cullens. However, the werewolf tribe finds out about this baby and vow to kill it.
AH-HA! There is the tension! There is the whisper of a plot for this movie. Would you care to know how long the movie runs before any sort of plot is revealed? One hour and seven minutes. You have to sit though two people staring at each other for more than an hour before ANYTHING interesting happens. Dare we hold that up against other popular movies of 2011? Hmm...Captain America: The First Avenger introduced its villain, Macguffin, and hero within 20 minutes. Hugo presented its protagonist, antagonist, and Macguffin within about 15 minutes. Conan the Barbarian, crappy though that movie was, gave you its whole plot in the opening 5 minutes of the movie. One hour and seven minutes is absolutely unforgivable, even for a “Part 1.”
After the 1:07:00 mark, only three things of consequence happen. Bella gives birth to her daughter, who has the second dumbest name I've ever heard. She named the kid Renesmee. Which almost takes the top spot. But I knew someone who named their daughter S'not. Pronounced Suh-not. Spelled like snot. Not an exaggeration.
The second thing that happens is Jacob Imprints on Renesmee, becoming her soul mate, thus preventing the wolves from killing her. Something that was not made clear to me before watching this is that when a werewolf Imprints on someone, it is completely involuntary. Up until watching this, I had assumed that Jacob purposefully Imprinted on Bella's kid. That thought had me thoroughly grossed out. Knowing that it was involuntary merely makes me uncomfortable, rather than making me want to put Child Protective Services on speed-dial.
The final thing that happens is that Bella finally becomes a vampire, something she has wanted since New Moon. She was turned because Edward didn't want to lose her during childbirth and injected her with his 'venom' after Renesmee was born. Of course there was a long, drawn out scene to make one think that she might not make it. But that was all resolved as you watch her transform into a pale, soulless form that lacks humanity. She turned into a vampire, too.
Which leads us to the conclusion of this lesson in will power, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. This was the best of the Twilight movies. Not a fantastic movie by any stretch of the imagination. But the best of them. One of the things you notice if you watch all of the Twilight Saga front-to-back like this is that, up until BD2, none of the movies have an identity. They are all very generic. However, BD2 toys with the idea of creating a certain mood. The opening credits to BD2 were almost subtly clever, using lots of reds and whites to signify Bella's transformation into a vampire, as well as showing various plants freezing in winter to signify her loss of human life. It was refreshing to see.
The whole plot of BD2 revolves around Renesmee. The ruling class of vampires, the Volturi, were told that the Cullens had broken the most sacred of vampire laws and turned a child into a vampire. This is a huge faux pas because immortal children stay at the mental level of their pre-vampire age, making them uncontrollable and prone to tantrums that turn into massacres. So the Volturi, led by mind-reading vampire, Aro, begin a trek from Italy to Forks to confront (i.e. kill) the Cullens and Renesmee. In a reaction to this, the Cullens begin collecting vampire witnesses to prove that the kid ages mentally and physically. In fact, she ages substantially faster than anyone else, giving her the visage of a seven-year-old after only a few months.
The Volturi, not to be shaken by logic, arrive resolved to fight the Cullens. The Cullens, who have amassed a small army of vampires and werewolves, send Alice, who can see the future, to convince Aro not to fight. Let me stop there and pull the rug from under you. There is a huge fight scene in which several people, Aro included, die and Renesmee gets separated from Edward and Bella, but it is all a vision of the future that Aro sees through Alice. So Aro decides not to fight, leaving Edward and Bella (and Jacob and Renesmee) to live happily together forever.
Okay. A couple of things. Firstly, in BD1, Bella demands that the baby be born, even though it could, and ultimately does, kill her. She fights to have this kid. Then, in BD2, she constantly leaves her. Just up and gone. Most of the time, she leaves her to go have sex with Edward. See how selfish she is? There is a scene in which Bella is driving to spend Christmas with her father, Renesmee, and Jacob (because Jacob takes better care of her kid than she does and doesn't want to leave her alone for long). She drives up to her father's house, drops off Renesmee and Jacob, and takes off in the car without even asking or thanking her dad for the favor of watching her kid. Why fight for this kid if you're not going to be a part of the kid's life? And why does no one ever call her on her bullshit?! If I were her dad, I would have slashed the tires on her boyfriend's precious Volvo.
Also, Jacob got really creepy with the Imprinting thing. Suddenly, this girl that he's spent the last few years madly in love with is cast to the side in favor of her, let's be honest, infant child. After Renesmee arrives, Jacob hardly ever looks at Bella. I don't know if that creeps anyone else out, but I don't like it.
So, after looking at each film, we have to go back to the reason we looked at them all in the first place. To explain why I dislike this saga. As I mentioned, it is horribly sexist. Nearly every woman in the saga, especially Bella, relies on men. In fact, every one of Bella's decisions, as well as the decisions of several other women, are made because of men. Every rescue is done by men. Edward saves Bella when she gets cornered by some thugs. When Bella fell in the forest in New Moon, one of the male werewolves was the one to rescue her. Jacob rescues her from drowning when she jumps off of the cliff. Even Victoria's revenge plot was all because of the death of a man. Every woman in this saga has no identity unless it is given to her by a man. Anyone who thinks that is okay can join Bella in her cliff diving.
Yet another point against this saga is that it is ridiculously irresponsible. Not one decision is met with negative consequences. When Bella decides to throw in her lot with vampires, she isn't eaten, but instead gains several vampire and werewolf protectors. When she plays around with Jacob's heart, not only does he not leave her, but he Imprints on her daughter. When Edward see's Bella kiss Jacob, he hardly even mentions it. The most insane of these, however, is the climax of BD2. The Volturi come looking for a fight, not just because of Renesmee, but also because Aro wants to employ (i.e. kidnap) Alice to use her powers for himself. Instead, he just walks away, taking all of the bloodhungry Volturi with him. This bothers me. There is no personal growth in this saga, for almost any character. Everyone is simply window-dressing.
Now, with all of that being said, let me blow your mind. There is nothing wrong with liking this saga. Absolutely nothing wrong with it. Allow me to illustrate. Imagine a midnight release of a Star Wars movie. Picture the crowd. They are wearing their Storm Trooper helmets and brandishing lightsabers. You hear excited conversation about the movie, ranging from people wondering what the movie will be like, to people gushing about previous entries in the series. Now, take away all of the Star Wars paraphernalia and give all of the theater patrons Team Edward or Team Jacob shirts and hats. Now make the crowd predominately female. Drawing any parallels?
They're Nerds!!! Just like us! The Twilight Saga took a crowd of pre-teen, teenage, and middle-age females, most of whom look down on the nerds like us, and turned them into nerds. It gave them something to rally behind and gush about. It gave them movies and books and board games to indulge in and live a fantasy life with. Who cares that they aren't cinematic masterpieces? Neither are the Star Wars Prequel movies, but they have plenty of fans who *ahem* make excuses for them, myself included. Who are we to tell Twihards that they can't have a piece of that? Instead, we should be sheltering them, blowing that little nerd spark into a flame. They are newcomers to the nerd world and we should be helping, not hindering.
And to that, I say good on you, Twilight. Till next time, Nerds...