[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="203" caption="Cover of Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3)"][/caption]
I am having one of those mornings. Sleep-deprived, headache, huge and important work deadlines hanging over me, but all I can think about is vampires and werewolves. In other words, I too went to see the midnight showing of "Eclipse" last night with my daughter and a few friends.
This third in the series of films about Stephenie Meyer's runaway best seller Twilight series is sure to be a box office success, especially with women (of various ages) and the primary draw continues to be the rather formulaic romance of the books coupled with some serious objectification of young male bodies- especially Taylor Lautner's.
Eclipse is a complicated book and the movie doesn't shy away from much that is complicated about it. In this iteration of the epic romance that is Edward (Robert Pattison)and Bella (Kristen Stewart), the romance is triangulated and tested by Bella's real feelings for werewolf Jacob (Lautner). In the book and in the movie it is clear that Bella loves both men/monsters. That is a complicated message in the romance genre. The heroine should be like Bella- plain, ordinary, kinda boring- and then lifted out of her world into a more extraordinary experience by the love of her man. But in Eclipse our heroine has a vampire and a werewolf, both of them so extraordinary looking as to continue to bring sighs and screams from the audience and both so completely and totally devoted to her that they never ever notice other women. Ah, the power of fantasy. No wonder romance is the best selling genre of literature.
And yet, there are undertones of male sexual violence throughout the movie and the book that young girls who read them are struck by. This is the book where Jacob forces a kiss on Bella, a scene inspiring tee shirts that say "I want to La Push Jacob off a Cliff." It is this book that divides young girls into Team Edward and Team Jacob. Edward is the opposite of Jacob. Edward would never force a kiss onto Bella. In fact, the upstanding young vampire refuses to have sex with Bella until they are married. In a scene that elicited laughter from one of my friends but no one else in the audience, Edward tells Bella that they cannot have sex until they're married because he is worried about her soul! Say what? Eternal damnation for premarital sex? Is that in the Bible? Perhaps it's part of Meyer's Mormon beliefs? Who knows, but it is yet another sort of sexual danger lurking in the books and the movies. Have sex and your lover may rip you apart because he is so strong. Have sex and you may be damned eternally.
To add to the sexual danger that young girls read about in the books and see in the movie is the rape scene that begins Rosalie's (Nikki Reed) life as a vampire. The young and naive and fully human Rosalie falls for a man who organizes a gang rape of her. Rosalie is left for dead on the street. It is then and only then that her vampire father, Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli) saves her and yet, in her mind, damns her to an eternity as a monster.
With all these messages about sex as dangerous and men as violent beasts, you would think that Eclipse could not possibly be a sexy movie. But it is. The bodies of the werewolf pack are lovingly filmed, their bare, brown, and hairless chests often glistening with sweat. Bella and Edward kiss slowly and often seem to be on the verge of shoving their hands down each other's pants. And yet, the movie remains as virginal as Bella. It is through violence that the climax happens, a series of scenes of vampires fighting with an occasional werewolf thrown in. In the denouement- where the vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) comes after Bella after years of hunting her down- you can hear the audience sigh in relief. As Victoria and Edward battle to the death, there is a release of the movie's sexual tension into blood and gore.
And what could be more romantic and more American than a movie that combines bloodlust with a ridiculously uptight message about sexual lust? Violence is unavoidable. It happens. Men are violent beasts. Vampires and werewolves are violent beasts. But sex and passion can be avoided, at least until marriage. And by the way, if you do have sex, it just might kill you and damn you for eternity.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"][/caption]
Okay, not to make all you Twilight fans insanely jealous, but I spent my Valentine's Day in Volterra, Italy, the home of the Volturi vampire nobility in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga. Go ahead- envy me and my Valentine's Day. How can you help yourselves?
After all, it was here in this ancient town, where Etruscans lived 2500 years ago, where the Romans came, and the Black Death raged, that something really important happened: Bella saved Edward from suicide. Edward was going to expose himself as a vampire and thereby force the Volteri to kill him because he thought Bella was dead. This may sound familiar since Meyer structured the New Moon book around the archetype of teen romance: Romeo and Juliet.
According to the tourism office here in Volterra, my family and I are hardly the only Twilight tourists. In fact, they attribute one out of four visitors to this city as Twilighters. The Twilighters come from all over the world: the US, Canada, the UK, France, Italy, Japan, China, Jamaica, Venezuela, Brazil, and, of course, Italy itself. Although they come to see the place where Edward and Bella will always live, the tourism office hopes that the Twilighters will also appreciate this ancient city on a hill, filled with a beautiful mix of Etruscan, Roman and Medieval architecture.
Yet even if the Twilighters bother to stop by the Roman baths or the Etruscan gate, the story of Edward and Bella is so compelling, so completely thrilling and emotionally satisfying, that it is what draws "everyone" to this place. Actually, when pushed a bit further on this, the tourism office told me that Twilight speaks primarily to couples and families and they are always heterosexual (although some gay men might visit occasionally to see the city, they do not show up for the special Twilight-themed tours).
That was certainly true tonight as an extremely lively guide took us through the streets of Volterra at sunset. We were a shy crowd, she said, difficult to warm up. There was myself, my 11-year-old daughter, and four Italian couples from other towns. The couples themselves looked similar: they were appropriately gendered, the women had long hair, the men short. They enacted appropriate gendered performances: the men took the photos or videos and insisted they had not read the books while at least a few of the women admitted they had read all the books and been very moved by them. One woman said she had cried like a fountain while reading them. One man said he was there because he loved his wife and she loved Twilight. Ah, that's amore.
There was nothing extraordinary about these couples- looking for some romance on St. Valentine's Day. They worked as mechanics and in the computer software industry. One owned a wine store. Another was studying economics.
And yet, they clearly enjoyed standing on the place where Alice's car, a stolen yellow porsche, was stopped because it was the (fictional) festival of St. Marco, when the vampires were thrown out of the city. The couples joked and pushed at each other as we were led underground to the ancient Roman catacombs to be "fed" to the Volteri. One man took photos of his wife as she was led away by the vampires. She shouted to him to stop taking photos and save her. The man continued his photographing.
It's difficult to know what exactly is going on here in Volterra- or across the world in Forks, WA. I think, watching the couples tonight and speaking to them a bit afterwards, it is that romance as a genre does some pretty important ideological work for couples.
The ordinary heroine, Bella, is made extraordinary by the all-consuming love of an extraordinary vampire. As some of the Twilight graffiti said,
Forget Prince Charming. Edward, come and rescue me!"
It is also, as one young man on the tour said, the
sort of love that we all want"
Maybe many of us do long for the sort of passion Edward and Bella have, but such an all-consuming love, the sort that makes you leave your family and friends behind, to drop all interest in the world outside the couple, would be considered psychotic and even dangerous by most of us. Still, an all-consuming passion is an ideal, something like Heaven, to be held out to us ordinary lovers as something to imagine and desire.
Finally, there are themes of "immortality" that play into an increasingly powerful fear of aging. The same cultures that tell us to Botox at twenty so we never develop a wrinkle are, not surprisingly, the same cultures most likely to be moved by Twilight where Bella stresses about her 19th birthday marking her as "too old."
But I think what is really going on in Volterra is the strange marriage of capitalism and romance. Romance as an ideal type always leaves us longing for something more or something different than what we have. And capitalism is there to offer us a path of consumption to fill that aching, empty place of need and desire that are left when everyday experience cannot match the beauty and passion that is Edward and Bella. Romance tourism, alabaster apples, Edward and Bella tee shirts.
The marriage of capitalism and romance is why love bites in Volterra, Italy and Forks, WA and around the world, especially today.