12 December 2008


Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Written by: Melissa Rosenberg
Full credits from IMDb

I went into Twilight, the CW-style vampire drama that has Hot Topic patrons swooning, already smiling, in anticipation of the hilarity bound to follow: not only the sure-to-be corny dialogue and mushy plotting, but the witty things I would write about it later. Alackaday, the movie is so inoffensively adequate that there was little to laugh about—though still plenty to knock.

Kristen Stewart plays a no-moodier-than-average teen forced to leave sunny Pheonix for the perpetually gray, snow-capped misery of the Pacific Northwest to live with her father. Director Hardwicke has previously set up young characters in a histrionic after-school special milieu (Thirteen), but here she tacks to the opposite extreme. Stewart’s new high school is teeming with plenty of attractive, panracial honors students—who use hip, anodyne slang like “chillax” and “homegirl”—to befriend. But this benign coterie of pre-college time-killers is contrasted with the brooding Tiger Beat pin-up Robert Pattison, her lab partner in, ahem, biology class, who leers at her like she’s a putrefying steak: simultaneously rotten and delicious.

Pale as exhumed corpses, Pattison and his stepbrothers and -sisters are rapidly pegged as…different. So even if you came into Twilight knowing nothing about it—if so, won’t you tell me how?—it’s quickly clear that it’s about vampires living among us. But the maddeningly slow-going script keeps its heroine oblivious to this fact for far too long; it clears its throat, beats around the bush, and pretends that there’s a big mystery to be unraveled. Stewart doesn’t figure out until the middle of the movie what we knew before the credits rolled. The sequel, I hope, won’t be able to be anything but superior, as it won’t have to deal with all this pseudo-suspenseful dawdling.

And a sequel there will be, not only because Twilight made a gazillion dollars on a meager budget but because these are Vampire Times. Zombies and vampires seem to take turns, for a few years at a time, occupying the public imagination. The aughties zombie craze, from new Romero to Romero remakes and Romero homage, seems to have exhausted itself, and so vampires have slowly been returning to the cultural forefront: from Stephanie Meyers’ neo-Anne Rice Twilight books, on which this film is based, to HBO’s sweltering, soft-core romance True Blood, not to mention Sweden’s sweet Let the Right One In, set for a likely not-sweet American remake next year. Zombies are usually used to examine mass cultural trends, since they act dumbly, in groups. So it’s perhaps fitting that they dominated the Bush years, when pack mentality and mass hysteria dominated the cultural discussion: us vs. them culture war nonsense, color-coded terror level vicissitudes, all of it soooo 2004. The Bush-crest is crashing. Times of poverty and Democrats are hotter than times of war and Republicans, and vampire stories are all about sex.

Twilight is as sex-crazed as any of its forebears: Stewart has such an appetizing scent that it sends Pattison into a tizzy; all he wants to do is “bite her neck” and “suck her blood”—wink wink, nudge nudge. But, like an evangelical with an abstinence ring, he has sworn off human blood; he only kills animals, these days anyway. (“I’m designed to kill…I’ve killed before,” he admits, turning on the wives of military men.) The movie serves as celibacy allegory, appropriate for its abstinence-only-education era, in which Stewart, twitchy and frowny, declares she doesn’t like things that are “cold” and “wet”; when a friend holds out a worm on a stick, she cringes. A terrified deer, running through the woods for its life, becomes a visual motif—and guess what it represents. A sloppily, tardily introduced super villain, who wants nothing more than to defile Stewart’s pure…humanity, lures her to her former ballet studio, a crypt for her feminine innocence, and kinkily turns on a camcorder so he can show his enemies later how he “sucked her blood” real good. Maybe he’ll even upload it to the Internet? Rawrr!

All of this sexually symbolic action is relatively innocuous (at least compared to True Blood), but Twilight does turn out to be awfully distasteful—in its view of appropriate relationship behavior. Stewart is 17 and so is Pattison, except that he’s been 17 for 100 years, making her 1/7th his age. And if that alone weren’t bad enough, he follows her around—stalker!—and sneaks into her bedroom at night to watch her sleep. Somehow, the movie passes this off as romantic; maybe it’s every young girl’s dream to have a sexless relationship with an obsessed, much-older man who boasts an unerring fealty to his distressed damsel. Taking a step back, as an adult male, it’s creepy to imagine that this is what (some) women crave. Grade: C+

Watch the trailer:


Paula Mason said...
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Chris Lindsay said...

I haven't read the books, but it seems to me that Edward still has the emotional maturity of a 17 year old, making his romantic relationship less creepy. He has accumulated over 100 years of knowledge, but his emotional maturity is still stuck at 17. I like your statement: "The movie serves as celibacy allegory, appropriate for its abstinence-only-education era." This theme is what sets Twilight apart from pretty much any hit movie for teenagers. Twilight shows us that romantic love does not have to lead to pre-marital sex. I wrote a short post on Twilight called "The Byronic Hero." If you would like to read it, here is the link: https://christopherjohnlindsay.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/twilight/