One day, they’re going to milk the cow so dry grade schools will give out pasteurised bovine spit at recess. Allow me to explain. Once upon a time, Stephenie Meyer wrote a young adult novel called Twilight. Like Dawson’s Creek, the book was by no means a masterpiece, but it captured the voice of a generation, so the unlikely bestseller became a literary trilogy, and everyone lived happily ever after. However, never ones to let a good thing go, the publishers then commissioned an additional volume to further conclude a saga that had already ended. Three movie adaptations later, this redundant fourth entry is getting split in two to make sure devoted tweens cough up every bit of allowance they’ve got left.
In light of the artless bisection of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, I braced myself for the worst, but it turns out the awkwardly titled The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 does make for a complete story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. In fact, the film feels less like the setup to an epic conclusion than an unnecessary epilogue to what’s come before: the truce between the Native American werewolves and the vampiric Cullens remains uneasy; Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) get married as prophesised; and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) gripes about the latter becoming a bloodsucker. In short, nothing happens that we couldn’t surmise from the last time we saw the characters.
That is, until one of Edward’s otherworldly sperms reaches Bella’s ovum. She’s still human at this point, but the resulting phoetus is not and so drains her life from the womb with subtle but nonetheless impressive special effects (Stewart looks positively anorexic during the pregnancy, and a bit before too, but never mind). Edward wants to kill the child to save his wife, but she’d rather risk death to give it a fighting chance. As in real life, everyone else starts weighing in, including the werewolves, who break the peace treaty because they want an abortion, damn it, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it!
I’m a bit concerned about how this turn of events might be interpreted. Given the series’ established politics regarding sex and marriage, one might be tempted to think Meyer (or maybe screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg) is using Bella’s ordeal to weigh in on the current abortion debate. If that’s the case, I find the metaphor utterly ludicrous. As their moniker indicates, pro-choice advocates favour a woman’s right to choose. As such, they’d protect the heroine no matter her decision and find the werewolves’ murderous tactics as repugnant as, say, blowing up a medical clinic. By the same token, most pro-lifers object to terminating a foetus in non life-threatening situations, not to the reasonable discussion that comes before gambling two human lives.
Having mentioned that, if you ignore any attempt at social commentary, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (say that ten times fast) works well enough as a modest drama about two lovers facing an impossible dilemma right as their life together is about to start. Jacob’s ultimate sacrifice proves a lot more affecting than any plot recap would lead you to believe, and the supporting characters come off genuine in their varied reactions. I like how Rosalie (Nikki Reed) keeps objecting to the use of the word “foetus” instead of “baby”, acknowledging the way language can colour a debate. Yes, she has her own bias, but maybe that’s the point.
If it seems like I’m overlooking the fantasy elements that differentiate the franchise from a Lifetime original series, keep in mind that The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 largely consists of talking heads. In fact, one could accuse the first half of meandering a bit as our protagonists go through their interminable wedding and Expedia commercial of a honeymoon. However, I find genuine insight in the bit when Edward stresses over the details of his sexual performance, not understanding his bride cares only about their having made love at last. In comparison, the more plot-centric scene in which Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) waits with bated breath for Bella to taste his medicinal blood Slurpee feels utterly ridiculous.
After The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010), I thought the producers had decided to treat the series as a low-rent Harry Potter, but director Bill Condon seems to have embraced Catherine Hardwicke’s approach in the first movie, favouring character psychology over epic world-building. This comes to me as a welcome surprise, not least because the actors give some of their best performances in the series (not saying much, I know). I particularly dig Billy Burke’s private joke of playing Bella’s dad with increasing exasperation. If anything, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 has renewed my patience for these characters, which I guess is what’d you want before fondling a cow for a fifth perfunctory instalment.