The Twilight Saga Retrospective

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© Copyright Summit Entertainment

© Copyright Summit Entertainment

Ironically, the thing I like the most about vampires is that I couldn’t care less about them. What the nastier Twilight (2008) detractors out there refuse to understand is that the pasty heartthrobs belong to women and have for decades. Consider Anne Rice’s body of work (before she found Jesus obviously) or TV shows like Moonlight and The Vampire Diaries. Vampires are the new unicorn. They’re to genre fiction what Sex and the City (2008) is to summer blockbusters, except that they suck our blood instead of our faith in the movie-going public.

I approached The Twilight Saga half a decade ago with a single-minded desire to disprove all the vitriolic gore hounds who fail to see the irony in calling a franchise gay (as if that were such an terrible thing) for romanticising a girl’s intense attraction to a member of the opposite sex. Don’t get me wrong. I have no love for the overwrought prose of Stephenie Meyer, who wrote the four-novel series (how did we end up with five flicks?) and, in my humble opinion, could have used a good thesaurus. However, I like her core idea of extending the lurid subtext inherent to the vampire myth into a metaphor for teen lust.

Now, I’ve never read any of the books in full, but I was impressed at how well the first Twilight movie conveyed the notion of young love. Consider the adorable scene in which Bella (Kristen Stewart), desperate for her boyfriend to turn her into a vampire (i.e. give in to his lust), tilts her head and lowers her collar so he can take a bite. Edward (Robert Pattinson) leans forward, rests his chin against her neck, and gives it a small peck. “We’ve got all the time in the world,” his smile says. “God, I think I just climaxed twice,” her gaze exclaims. Isn’t it refreshing to see the introverted heroine take ownership of her healthy sexual urges instead of having to fend off those of handsome adolescent boys destined to become serial rapists?

I don’t mean to suggest the character should be helmed as a feminist icon. In fact, one of the more sensible criticisms I’ve heard about The Twilight Saga pertains to the question of whether Bella serves as a good role model for young girls. Mind you, I’m not convinced it matters. After all, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone blaming anti-heroes like Snake Plissken of Escape from New York (1981) or Charles Foster Kane of Citizen Kane (1941) for turning our kids into eye-patched anarchists or inspiring them to let hubris eat away at their happiness. Why then should female protagonists be saddled with the responsibility of leading their gender into a perfect existence?

As Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes and self-proclaimed Twi-hard, suggests, Twilight derives much of its power from its depiction of teenage girls as they are rather than as we want them to be or even as they view themselves. Bella is simultaneously portrayed as an old soul and an erratic child, a kindhearted heroine and a selfish friend, an innocent dreamer and a total horn-dog. The fact that she doesn’t fit the stereotype of either the virginal saint or mean-spirited whore doesn’t make her a shallow character but a rare embodiment of a feminine point of view. Truth be told, I’ve dated women like young Miss Swan, confused souls who could decline my affections all the while caressing my abs. Keep in mind my six-pack looks nothing like Taylor Lautner’s!

© Copyright Summit Entertainment

© Copyright Summit Entertainment

I suppose a retrospective of The Twilight Saga wouldn’t be complete without a few words on the so-called love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob (Taylor Lautner). I use the term “so-called” because our heroine chooses her man early on and never goes back on the decision, despite her vampire beau turning out somewhat of a paternalistic jerk. This makes Jacob seem like a bit of a stalker or, for the handful of readers who’ll get the reference, a Québec referendum: how many times does the girl have to say no before he gets the message? Also, he becomes a weird sort of pedophile in the final instalment, so I’m going to have to set my flag firmly in Edward’s camp. Lord only knows what Meyers was thinking with that particular twist.

I’m not blind to The Twilight Saga’s faults, you see. For one, I could do without screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg’s self-deprecating in-jokes throughout the series. However, I am impressed with the directors Summit Entertainment has managed to sign onto this five-picture journey: Catherine Hardwicke lent a grungy, natural aesthetic to the first film; Chris Weitz did what he could with its sequel, injecting a sense of poetry to the more abstract bits of melodrama; David Slade brought out the more fantastical elements, opting to shoot the third instalment as an action thriller; and Bill Condon struck a sensible middle ground with his two-part conclusion.

That’s why I find it difficult to take all those middle-aged gore hounds seriously when they denigrate the entire franchise based on a few instances of lip biting and vampire sparkles. Look, I get it. I’ve got a penis too, which puts me way outside the target demographic. In fact, I don’t really like The Twilight Saga so much as respect its achievements and cultural zeitgeist. That being said (or written), don’t you boys think it’s time you learnt to share your toys and play nice with others?

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