[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="207" caption="Image by Getty Images for Fox via Daylife"][/caption]
Yes, I took my daughters to the midnight showing of "New Moon" yesterday. Yes we didn't get home till 3. Yes, they're still in bed. And yes, I'm a bad mother. Not because I let them stay out till 3am on a school night, but because I took them to what can only be called "porn for tweens."
Oh, I know it's supposed to be a romance. Stephanie Myers, in her usual way, uses a piece of classical literature to structure her book. In this case, New Moon the book is the tale of Romeo and Juliet (see, the Twilight series is much deeper than you thought- get it, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, real literature?). In case you haven't read the novels, New Moon has absolutely NO action as a book, just two, dopey, star-crossed lovers, near suicides on both sides, oh, and a bunch of vampires and werewolves thrown in to make it interesting. At least to tween and teen girls.
But the movie, thank god, is not as action-less as the book. There are vampire-werewolf battle scenes, fast cars, and pretty damn nice clothes and haircuts. But the real action, of course, is Jacob- the wolfboy's- body- especially his chest and his "eight pack." Taylor Lautner's body has been the subject of discussion among middle-school girls (and I assume high school ones as well) for months. Videos of him and his abs have circulated on Youtube and been the subject of much discussion and ooohhhhing and awwwwing. The real screams in the theater came last night not because of anything spooky, but because Jacob rips his shirt off. Shouts of "OH MY GOD!" "LOOK AT HIM!" "I'M GOING TO FAINT" rang out (and that was just among the middle-aged moms I was sitting with).
In the typical trope of the romance novel, the book New Moon portrays just an ordinary gal, Bella Swan- Kristen Stewart- who is not particularly beautiful (well, she is, but she's not supposed to be), not particularly smart, and ALWAYS in need of protection from her preternaturally strong men- the vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob with his abs.
As per the rules of the Romance Writers of America (yes, there are rules), the heroine never strays from her true love and is always faithful, but something keeps them apart and then, at the end, they come back together forever and ever and ever and ever. The lead romantic male must be strong, but emotionally distant (Edward is so emotionless he always looks slightly constipated in these movies). But his love for the heroine cracks his emotional distance and brings him to her (and only her).
But the trope of the movie is not just romance, but porn. Actually, to be fair, it's not mainstream, hardcore porn, but the newer genre known as "porn for women." Everyone is madly in love (Jacob with Bella, Edward with Bella, Bella with Edward). And the attention is on the male body. Just as in "porn for women" (and gay male porn) there are loving shots of abs and lats and even a few moments of buttock gazing. It is significant that only Edward and Jacob take their shirts off (OH MY GOD! THEY'RE SO HOT!) whereas Bella tends to wear jeans and flannel shirts. It is significant that the sexual tension that exists is because everyone wants the woman (including some human boys, but what chance do they have among such monstrous beauties?).
In the end, middle-school girls are learning to feast on the bodies of men. I actually think this is a more powerful lesson for them than the sappy and ridiculous romance where two teenagers almost kill themselves over their love. Good gods. What kind of lesson is that for them? If your boyfriend moves (to a vampire-infested town in Italy for instance), you should go into what can only be described as clinical depression, lose touch with your friends, your family, and start to hallucinate his presence whenever you do something stupid like jump off a cliff. This is NOT a lesson I want my girls to learn.
But the movie is about the female gaze and the pleasures of the male flesh. Hell, the movie is porn for women and girls and gay boys. A visual feast of hot young men for screaming girls and women. And even if I have my doubts that porn is more liberating than romance, at least it doesn't make me want to scream "NO! DO NOT GIVE UP YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY AND SCHOOL FOR A BOY!" the way the Twilight series does. Instead, along with my girls, I can scream "OH MY GOD. LOOK AT HIS ABS!"
Critic Review for The Twilight Saga: New Moon on washingtonpost.com.