Thursday, December 18, 2008
I won't make any of the requisite apologies so often expected after viewing movies that prominently feature suburban teenage girls in peril and vampires. I think it is enough to say that my appreciation for both young adult fiction and Buffy the Vampire Slayer convinced me that Twilight would keep me smiling for days. And while Twilight is no Buffy, I am okay, comfortable, and even a little relieved to admit that it has become, as one of my friends put it, "The guiltiest of my guilty pleasures."
Twilight (based on the four-part book series by Stephanie Meyer) is the story of Bella Swan, a high school junior from sunny Arizona who has recently arrived in droopy Washington to live with her father. Like so many contemporary female characters nowadays, Bella is smart and her beauty is powerful, but she is haunted by self-doubt and the notion that she is a failure at everything she tries. And, like so many contemporary plot lines nowadays, it takes the right man to reveal the arresting pieces of Bella that have remained hidden for so long. Enter Edward Cullen: a fellow student described in the book as "devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful" who also happens to be a vampire. The two fall in love, despite conflicting fantasies about the future, and their struggles between human and vampire, restraint and gratification sit at the center of a story featuring, among other things, vampires playing baseball, Native Americans with a grudge, one near car accident, and James, a bad vampire with a bad ponytail.
Director Catherine Hardwick (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown, and The Nativity Story) has made something beautiful to look at. Granted, the coastal lines and forests of the Pacific northwest don't need much help making a visual impact, but the mood and weight of the movie are heavily influenced by the environment. When the some of the writing and acting falls flat (which it tends to do), the action is saved by the sweeping shots of Washington. Some of the cheesier dialogue - "there was a part of him...that thirsted for my blood"- can be forgiven when you see Edward carry Bella on his back across treetops and mountains. And while it is hard to ignore some of this questionable writing, I found Twilight the movie to be waaaaay frigging better than Twilight the book. And I don't feel like too much of a snob for not being sure if I can get through 500 pages of prose like this:
He turned then, with a mocking smile, and I stifled a gasp. His white shirt was sleeveless, and he wore it unbuttoned, so that the smooth white of his throat flowed uninterrupted over the marble contours of his chest, his perfect musculature no longer merely hinted at behind concealing clothes. He was too perfect, I realized with a piercing stab of despair. There was no way this godlike creature could be meant for me.
Like a Harlequin romance novel without the payoff. Stephanie Meyer has said that a lot of her work is inspired by some of the classics, and Pride and Prejudice loomed large during her work on Twilight. But it is hard for me to see an immediate comparison between Elizabeth Bennett, who feels like a fully realized, complex three-dimensional character, and Bella Swan, who just seems flat and kind of dopey. Again, I thought movie Bella was cooler than book Bella, if for no other reason than actress Kristen Stewart injected the role with some huzzah. But Twilight (both renditions) is probably a little sexist, in that it is hard for Bella to do anything other than blame herself for everything and desire to be rescued by her boyfriend.
But enough boo hiss. The part of me that likes to have fun, the part of me that forever feels seventeen years old- that part of me loved Twilight. What could be better than re-imagining your aching teen years with a hot guy and supernatural excitement? Because Twilight is also, very simply, a story about the pain of adolescence and the trauma of growing up and making decisions. Being a teenager wouldn't be so existentially angsty if we all had Bella's secret- a special someone who could recognize the beauty of our inner, subjective selves. If each of us had our own little vampire - one who walked, talked, and smoldered like Edward Cullen- to see the things that made us exceptional, high school might not have been such a hellhole.