It's no secret that I'm not a fan of Twilight. I've never bought into vampires in a big way in the first place, and Stephanie Meyer's incarnations seemed like more of the watered-down tripe I've come to expect from the recent additions to the genre.
As far as I'm concerned the whole point of vampires is that they’re scary, and I think that important piece of the puzzle is almost completely absent from popular media. The vampires of myth, the soulless predators that stalk humans, were long jettisoned in favor of a more "modern," humanistic model. To me, vampires are monsters, and I like them that way. The more vampires become like humans, the less interesting they are. Modern vampires, with all their powers, toned-down weaknesses and penchant for protecting humans, might as well be the goddamn X-men.
By making vampires personable and human, Stiffy Meyer and her ilk have taken one of the most frightening creatures of human imagination, a shape-shifting predator who drinks human blood and is a walking damnation engine, and made it not only safe, but an object of desire. How the hell did that happen?
I was ripping on Twilight in this vein the other day, as I have been known to do from time to time—well, all the time actually—and one of my co-workers did something I’ve been dreading for months.
She called me on it. She made me admit I’d never read the book or seen the movie, and therefore all my opinions were secondhand. She totally cleaned my clock, called me intellectually dishonest, and said I wasn’t allowed to make fun of Twilight unless I’d either read the book or seen the movie.
And she was absolutely right. It's a perfectly fair deal.
The scene below is what happened next:
Yes, that is Twilight, in my apartment, and a brand-new bottle of bourbon bought specially for this occasion. I bought Woodford Reserve, which is expensive, but good. I'll pay extra for fine alcohol, because my body is a temple, and it deserves the most expensive poison I can afford.
I figured I might need it to survive two hours of moon-eyed teenage abstinent vampire romance.
For the next three hours, I watched Twilight, pausing to blog my thoughts on the progression of the film. After all, it’s first hand, isn’t it? And lucky you, you can be there with me through every minute of it.
First nitpick: fans of the series, and the DVD box, refer to the series as the Twilight Saga. Twilight is not a goddamn saga. Sagas are Nordic and Icelandic stories of heroes and gods, mostly passed down through oral tradition. Of course, people in advertising seem to treat the word “saga” as a synonym for “series,” which is one of many examples in their vicious abuse of the English language.
In case you’re curious, here are the ads before Twilight:
BANDSLAM: A PG movie about a rock band. If that sounds like crap to you, you have more taste than Lisa Kudrow’s agent. Oh dear Lisa, who do you owe money to?
ASTROBOY: I’m not gonna lie, I’m excited for this one, even though it’ll probably be terrible.
PUSH: A film about some douche with too much hair product that can do the Jedi trick Force Push. Push is beneath contempt, a comic-book movie that isn’t based on a comic book, so 16 year-old boys don’t feel geeky going to it.
Bella, a clingy, dour, and uninteresting teen. Most Twilight fans are so unaware of the vampire source material their little kingdom is based on, they probably don’t realize that the nickname “Bella” is a tribute to Bela Lugosi. Now there’s a man who could play a vampire.
Eddie CullCull, an obnoxious bloodsucker with bad hair, who spends most of the film high on makeup fumes from his whitened face.
Stiffy Meyer, who wrote this abomination.
Well, I’m pushing Play. Bottoms up, everyone. I’ll pause the film to comment when I take objection to something. I’ll provide time stamps from here on out, just in case you want to scavenge up the scenes I’m commenting on.
Wait, wait, hold it. It’s rated PG-13 for violence and a scene of sensuality? A as in one? I thought this movie was supposed to be hosed down with sex appeal. Jesus Christ people, you’re going nuts for a single scene of sensuality? Now ladies, I assume you know about the internet, since you're reading this post on it- here's a tip, search around a bit. Ten minutes in, you'll wonder why you ever gave a damn that the werewolves don't wear shirts in New Moon.
“I’ll miss Phoenix. I’ll miss the heat.” Bella, I’ve been to Phoenix. I know people who used to live there. Nobody misses the heat.
Let’s see what we have: teen girl, divorced parents, uncommunicative father, and a big bag of abandonment issues. Oh yeah, I see were this is headed. Abusive boyfriend, right?
And of course the Native Americans are werewolves! Why wouldn't they be?
Here's how I imagine Stiffy Meyer cleared this with her agent:
AGENT: So... all the werewolves are Native Americans?
STIFFY: Yeah, they're all werewolves! RARR!
AGENT: Uh, okay, why are Native Americans the only ones who turn into werewolves?
STIFFY: Well 'cause they're close to nature, ya know? With their spirit guides and wolf pelts and stuff. Like, they're close to the beasts, so they turn into beasts! WOOF WOOF.
AGENT: Right, but you are aware that throughout American history, Native Americans were frequently seen as "animals" that lacked souls, right? And that this depiction of them as animals was an argument used to justify atrocities? And you know that, to be blunt, Mormonism was at the vanguard of claiming that Native Americans were somehow "marked," and different, right? So don't you think this is a little, I don't know, "iffy?"
STIFFY: Do you think we can get Jacob to wear less clothes in the next movie? I like my Native Americans bare-chested, since obviously they feel uncomfortable in modern clothes. RARR! WOOF WOOF!
Look, I'm not claiming Stephanie Meyer is a bad person, but hell, she's at the very least totally unaware of her own subtext. It's a problem throughout this movie, and I'd assume the books as well. I mean, did she ever stop to think about this before she wrote it?
Note to future directors: if the entrance of your romantic lead sends me into a giggle fit so intense that my dog starts whimpering and pawing my stomach in concern, you’ve done something wrong. As if his Dust Buster-styled hair and floury whiteness weren’t absurd enough already, the makeup artists decided to do Eddie’s lips as if he’d just finished the biggest cherry Tootsie Pop ever created. They look infected. Can vampires get herpes?
Ok, so fifteen minutes into this movie, vampires are finally doing what they’re supposed to. Eating people. Aaaaaand it lasts all of twenty seconds. Great.
Second bourbon? Why thank you, I think I will.
I think Eddie loves Bella because she’s the only girl in school paler than he is.
Holy Shit, Eddie’s dad is the town doctor! A vampire doctor! Dr. Vampire, MD, now that’s a brilliant idea for a TV show. Think of it like ER or House, except he pauses in between heart transplants to lick his scalpel clean or "tap the keg" on his latest chemo patient. Hell, he could be a one-man euthanasia squad, putting the terminally ill out of their misery and saving patients with his super senses and hyper-quick surgical skills. Seriously, I call dibs on this one, I get to pitch it to NBC... I stole it first, dammit.
This is easily the most interesting idea in the movie, and Stiffy isn’t going to do crap with it, I can already tell.
He watches her sleep? I... I seriously don’t even know what to say to that. Well girls, in the world according to Stiffy, someday you too may be lucky enough to find a man who loves you enough to climb in your window and watch you sleep.
Look how inclusive and racially diverse Bella’s group of friends are! There’s a nerdy Asian guy, a glasses-wearing Asian girl who can’t get boys, and a Black guy full of tricks and jokes.
Ah, enter the villains. Now normally, in a story with boring central characters, this would be the part where the movie gets good. After all, stories may be about heroes, but are frequently driven by the villain. After all, there’s a reason the first James Bond film was called Doctor No, and that Javier Bardem got top billing in No Country for Old Men. I often refer to this as the Captain Hook Effect, citing that no one goes to see Peter Pan in order to see the boy who never grows up. No, we see Pan because there’s a swaggering pirate captain that sings a song about the gleeful pleasure of bullying, murder and wallowing in your own ego.
Judging by the villains here though, we’re not going to see something half as interesting. Here two palefaces hem in their victim, mewing all the questions their previous feasts have asked before dying. A third vampire pipes up: “James, let’s not play with our food.”
How’s about this for an alternate line? “James, you know how I hate it when you forget to say grace.”
Or this: “James, they aren’t as succulent if you curdle their blood first.”
Or this: "Rob, would you like some more bourbon?"
Why yes, yes I would.
After Bella gets attacked by a bunch of men in an alley, Eddie saves her and drives away in his cool Volvo sedan, fuming about how she doesn’t know “the vile, repulsive things they were thinking.”
Not to defend a bunch of mugging sexual predators, but I would like to point out that Eddie CullCull wants to eat her. I’m not sure what the muggers had in mind, but I’ll bet a good bottle of scotch that using her as a Slurpee wasn’t among their plans.
On another note, I wonder how much Volvo had to shell out for Mr. Sparkly Dream to drive one of their sedans? This is another thing that I don’t get: if you were immortal, would you drive a Volvo? I mean what the hell is he worried about, crash safety? If I were immortal, screw side-impact airbags, I’m driving a freakin’ GTO. I'm talking about the uber-dangerous type from the '70s that punches its steering column through your chest when you get into a high-speed collision.
Let’s recap, girls.
Scenario: You’re on a date with a guy who admits he’s been following you, claims to be able to read minds and says he can no longer stay away from you.
Which do you do?
A) Offer to split the check, even though he didn’t order anything, and leave as friends.
B) Decide this is just the sort of guy you’ve been looking for.
C) RUN. FUCKING RUN.
Hur, hur, hur. He a vampire. Who’d guess? Apparently the clan of CullCull isn’t just a bunch of inbred, antisocial, narcissistic loners with albinism and eating disorders. Nope, that’s just the actors.
Seriously, has no one in the town of Forks, Washington ever seen a bloody vampire movie, or play, or TV show, or read a novel about the supernatural? The whole family is absurdly pale, never eats in public, never comes to school when it’s sunny and have the reflexes of cheetahs on combat drugs. Where is the big mystery here?
What makes this scene even more unintentionally funny is that it’s shot like the end of The Usual Suspects, as if the audience is just now putting the pieces together and experiencing a sudden and alarming revelation.
Tip for aspiring filmmakers: if the audience is in on the secret from the beginning, for the love of God, don’t do this.
Ohmygod so romantic, he’s giving her a piggy back ride!
Just like a child... just... like... like a guy who’s been alive for a long time is giving a woman one quarter of his age an... er... an infantilizing piggy back ride. (Shiver.) He could be her great-grandpa, couldn’t he?
Where’s that bourbon? I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.
So, the infamous sparklies. (If you don’t know, in Twilight vampire skin sparkles like diamonds in daylight.) I’ve come to the conclusion that vampires don’t sleep in their native earth during the day, they just come out at night because they’re too embarrassed at how flamboyant they look.
Except during the ‘70s. That kind of thing would go under the radar in the ‘70s.
She knows he wants to kill her. Does she still want him? You betcha. You know I keep hearing these two being compared to Romeo and Juliet, but I think it’s far more akin to Doctor Lecter and Agent Starling... he’d normally eat her, but she’s so damn interesting.
Dating tip, girls: if a man loves you solely because you smell like a tasty victim, this is not a good basis for a relationship.
And isn’t 90 years a little too big an age difference for a relationship? I’m no prude, I’m just saying.
“Of three things I was certain: first, Edward was a vampire.”
Thank you Bella, for reiterating the point of the entire last scene. What, are you reinforcing it for theatergoers who were in the John? Do you possibly have some kind of brain damage? That would explain why Eddie CullCull can’t read your thoughts: most of the time there aren’t any.
And anyone notice that they don’t seem to love each other for their personalities? They just seem to fit together because they’re both so damn attractive. Where are the scenes of them laughing together and having fun? This relationship feels like being in a funeral parlor... the last time I checked, dating was fun.
So... the sister thinks she smells yummy too... and vampire bites are metaphors for sex so... uh... yeah.
So he’s spent the last hundred years going to high school? Why? What is he afraid of, truancy cops? He's a goddamn vampire-- fuck truancy cops! Has he spent a century without hearing about fake IDs? What sends me around the bend even worse about this is that they would already have to forge documents attesting to his age in order to put him in school and get him a driver's license. This means that if anyone in the Cullen Cabal was thinking clearly, they would've just forged him a driver's license claiming that he's 18 or 21 and left it at that. Even if they forged his ID to say he was seventeen, at seventeen, he can officially drop out and not have to deal with an eternity of dissecting tapeworms in Bio Lab. What's the point of him going to high school anyway? Is he being groomed for vampire college? This guy is old enough to have learned Darwin's theory in person.
And here’s another problem with CullCull—where’s the wisdom? As far as Stiffy Meyer is concerned, CullCull spent a century on earth (twice that, when you factor in that he doesn’t sleep), yet seems to have accumulated absolutely zero knowledge whatsoever. Shouldn’t he have grown out of the awkward teen stage by now? Probably the most interesting unexplored question in this movie is that of CullCull’s past, yet instead of Bella asking what it was like to live in the Roaring Twenties or the Great Depression or sixties counterculture, she mopes around talking about how she doesn’t like to dance and stares at Eddie with big, watering eyes.
This is the most incurious children’s book character in history. “You’ve lived a hundred and six years? Well ok. Gosh you have nice lips.”
Bella just looked over a beautiful Washington vista and said, “This isn’t real, this kind of stuff just doesn’t exist.”
Actually, it’s called nature, and it’s been there for quite awhile. Apparently Bella’s parents weren’t much on camping or National Geographic.
Holy shit, so he admits that he’s been climbing in her window to watch her sleep for months.
Then again, that might not be so bad, right? I once read a novel where a guy climbs in a woman’s window to watch her sleep...
Oh wait, that was a police report.
And afterward, they start making out and he lays down in bed by Bella to watch her sleep once again. This is too creepy for words. Both the power differential between them, and Eddie’s “romantic” predator behavior just keep driving this movie more and more into the territory of abusive relationships.
Let’s make a checklist:
1) Subject says he can’t be with love interest because he thinks he’ll hurt her. Check.
2) Subject says he doesn’t have the strength to leave love interest alone. Check.
3) Subject stalks love interest. Check.
4) Subject watches love interest sleep without her knowledge. Check.
5) Subject often tells love interest that he can “make” her do things through physical force if he wants to. Check.
6) Subject is controlling, makes all decisions in relationship. Check.
7) Subject is jealous of others (Jacob) speaking to subject. Check.
I’m not saying this is actually a bad thing, story-wise, but considering the rather revolting effect Eddie CullCull has on young girls, I’d hope they don’t grow up wanting to find a man who will be this pathetically (and frighteningly and criminally) devoted to them.
Vampires love to play baseball... by nature?
Okay. Time out. Freeze frame checklist:
1) You’re immortal.
2) You love baseball.
3) You live in Washington, so...
4) You have to root for the Seattle Mariners. Forever.
Bummer. At least he'll be alive in three hundred years when they win their first pennant.
Wow... plot developments. Didn’t see that coming. Turns out there’s a bad guy who wants to eat Bella... no really, that’s the plot development. I mean someone other than Eddie CullCull. I suppose it makes more sense in the abstinence parable that this film is thick with—he wants to eat her by force, whereas Eddie only wants to eat her if that’s what she wants (except that she wants him to, and he won’t do it). Of course, here’s where the parable gets a little muddy... since CullCull’s father bit him too.
Yeah, I know.
Murkier and murkier. Now the villain has bit Bella, and Eddie CullCull has bit villain after they drew kissing-close, snarling at each other. Hmmm...
After looking at the wiki on Twilight, I saw that the villain "James" won the Teen Choice Award for "Best Villain," and though I know the TCA's are inherently brainless, this still fills me with rage.
Let me list off the top of my head a number of 2008 films with better villains than Twilight:
The Dark Knight
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
And don't try to pull that, "Well those are Rated R," line with me because they do nominate Rated R moves at the TCAs, and usually have some skanky star pole-dancing, just to dive home that it's not really a family show (it was hosted by Paris Hilton in 2005). What kills me is this: Twilight won fucking everything it was nominated for at the Teen Choice Awards, finally sealing my opinion that there is no hope for the generation below me.
HOLY FUCKING SHIT. So after we establish that Eddie and Bella are a poster couple for abusive relationships and Bella gets the shit kicked out of her and is nearly killed by CullCull, the excuse they give Bella’s mother is that she fell down a flight of stairs? What’s next? Will they suggest that she got bite marks on her throat from running into a doorknob? I mean the “fell down the stairs” joke even occurred to me earlier, but I’m not that crass. Stiffy Meyer, I take it back, you are a bad person.
And how about that whole section of Bella being unable to defend herself against her male attacker, James? Couldn’t she have even tried to do something other than pepper spray him? It seems the whole theme of this movie, targeted toward young girls, is that they can’t stand up to the will of men, and just have to channel it and hope for the best.
Somewhere, Gloria Steinem just popped a gusher of a nosebleed.
And yes ladies and gentlemen, the truth is finally out, Bella wants CullCull to eat her. And he wants to eat her too, in a well-lit gazebo in the middle of Prom—not the best place for a supernatural suicide pact but I guess you take what you’re given.
I have an alternate suggestion: Run you stupid girl! Run, run, run, run RUN. Get into your beat-ass red truck and gun the goddamn motor south until you reach Gilroy, California. They refine more garlic there than any other place in the world, and this psycho stalker couldn’t sniff you out with his crooked nose even if garlic didn’t make his eye sockets burn. Seriously Bella, there are shelters and support networks for women like you.
I didn’t hate Twilight like I thought I would. In fact, I had a hard time mustering a particularly strong reaction to it at all. Oh it was funny, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s just as undeserving of the legion of haters as it is its legion of fans. What really confuses me is why it’s so popular. The story is mediocre, the direction was competent but not really interesting and the writing was bland. The characters are especially weak, essentially being nonentities except for the dynamic between them. We hear about Edward’s love for baseball, ok, and his appreciation of music, but not much else. But what about Bella? She’s the main character, right? Actually, no. I’d argue that she’s kept as rudimentary as possible in order for the women reading or watching to project themselves onto her, so they themselves can get whisked away by a vampire. As terrible as I feel saying this, Twilight is basically passive fantasy role-playing for girls. This personal insertion into the story would explain why so many fangirls feel a connection with Edward, and love him with an intensity that ensures Rob Pattinson's lawyers will get rich off drafting restraining orders for years to come. All in all, I've never seen women lose their shit over a fictional character like this, other than Mr. Darcy. (Once in college, I made an ill-advised joke suggesting Mr. Darcy was visiting brothels on all his trips to London, and suddenly found myself facing down a meek little Morman girl who overheard and went reactor critical- jumping up from her chair and yelling about how I'd slandered Darcy's honor and that he would never, ever do such a thing. She calmed down when I pointed out that Darcy wouldn't be offended, since he was fictional, and that I doubted Big D would go whoring anyway, since he even found the relatively well-born Bennett sisters beneath him.)
What really bothers me about Twilight is the subtext.
Forget about the glaringly obvious abstinence metaphor for a bit, and you’ll realize that not only do Bella and Eddie CullCull not have a healthy relationship, but they don’t actually love each other for who they really are. Bella is intoxicated with CullCull’s mystique, and Eddie is drawn to her pheromones like a shaking junkie to a methadone clinic. Add to this the power discrepancy between them and Slick Eddie’s constant reminders that he could physically force her to do things she doesn’t want to, and the whole thing takes on a threatening air. Watch out girls! Men can overpower you at any time, so you better just go along with what they say, alright?
As a whole, the movie seems to treat men quite badly. Edward is an uncontrollable predator who stalks Bella and wants to kill her, describing his manners and charms as “snares designed to draw you in.” Essentially (since Eddie stands for all men) Stiffy Meyer is telling the ago-old lie that no matter how nice and charming the boy, he only wants one thing. Be careful girls! All men are predatory animals and you will never be safe.
Now I’m not naive, and will admit there’s some truth to that. Men, in general, do want sex, but that’s because our brains are a swirling cocktail of chemicals that make us so. Indeed, the same can be said for women, except it doesn’t jive with traditional gender norms, so instead Stiffy casts them as prey. (Willing prey, but prey nonetheless.)
Heavy-handedness toward men is all over this film—note how Bella wakes up in a hospital with her mother there, but no father. She asks for her mom to call her father in so that she can apologize for leaving him shattered by walking out with the same words her mother used during the divorce, but do we see that apology? Hell no, that’s not important! Bring on more abusive boyfriend! Why would we want to see Bella make up with dear old dad, when mom’s much more important? That shit can happen offscreen and be implied—we don’t want to impart a moral lesson about apologizing for hurting the ones we love, for Chrissakes! It's perfectly natural and expected for Bella to hurt everyone close to her in the name of puppy love! Frankly, Bella’s gruff, Chief-of-Police father is the only character that seems sane—when Eddie CullCull comes over, daddy starts cleaning his shotgun. Now that’s a man who’s got some sparks of life upstairs. Eddie's dad is pretty awesome too, portrayed by an actor with actual presence and a certain amount of gravitas, the kind of guy who knows the score, and is just too nice to point out that his son is in love with a giant black hole of neediness, attention-seeking, and selfishness.
Furthermore, don’t get me started on Bella’s friends, who are pretty diverse, but when it comes time to pick dates for the Prom, kids of the same race seem to snap together like magnets. There’s the Asian couple, the white couple, and the Black friend who’s seen dancing with a Black girlfriend. Hell’s bells, for a movie about inter-species romance you’d think they wouldn’t have a problem patching together some mixed-race couples—at least they wouldn’t be nibbling each others’ arteries like some people we know.
In the end, I declare victory. I was told that I was not able to mock Twilight until I had seen it or read the book, and I won by mocking it during the show.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sterilize my brain with bourbon.
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