Romances are very difficult to create today. Why? Because to maintain romantic tension, the lovers have to be kept apart by something, and hardly anything is taboo in our postmodern culture. Gender, race, class, parental wishes, societal mores, customs, monogamy, commitment, money, etc., used to be major obstacles, but not when the zeitgeist is: "even publicly and legally, anything goes." (Age, that is, underagedness, might be the only remaining no-no. For now.)
"Twilight" successfully solves this problem by creating a kind of interspecies romance between teen human Bella (Kristen Stewart) and teen vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson). The result is a kind of goth "Pride and Prejudice." "Twilight" is based (very tightly) on the mega-selling book series by Stephenie Meyer (a practicing Mormon) so look for a film sequel. I will be. I did NOT want this movie to end.
The rainy, lush Pacific Northwest is perfect for the dark feel of this tasty tale. Teenage girls and their moms have gone gaga over the books, but the movie tested well on teen male audiences also. It's full of special effects because of Edward's suprahuman powers.
"Twilight," although not a "message film,"--it's great entertainment--definitely models for teens (and the rest of us) the wound of love, the restraint of love, the risk and danger of love that begins from the very moment we fall in love. (Kind of like when a baby is born—you're attached to the kid with a new umbilical cord of responsibility and worry and selflessness for the rest of your life.) The continual self-sacrifice involved in love is expressed through the apt metaphor of a vampire-turned-vegetarian who must always be self-vigilant, and a young woman who trusts in the best self of a "monster," a "killer," a "bad guy." This is not some easy "good girl falls for bad boy" stereotype, it's about the potential of humans (and other beings) to change, to exercise willpower, to transcend self.
Edward's desire for Bella's blood is a perfect kind of metaphor for the true love of sexual restraint. At a certain point, Edward MUST exercise this restraint to both save her life AND refrain from killing her. Dr. Carlisle Cullen, Edward's "foster father," fellow vampire and friend urges him: "Find the will to stop!" However, let it be said that in the movie, Bella and Edward woulda if they coulda.* They were ready to go for it in her bedroom. And what was she wearing (or not wearing) anyway? T-shirt and panties? (Not her fault, Edward barged in through the window.) In the BOOK--I am told by "Twilighters"--Edward makes it clear to Bella that he wants to marry her before they have sex, because he is an old-fashioned gentleman--in the best and fullest sense of that word--(he's from 1908).
Stephenie Meyer has tapped into some deep stuff: myths, food, conversions, free will (even vampires have free will!), love, immortality. The mix of mythical and human creatures is a perfect playground for the imagination to work out emotional and moral sticky-wickets. It's a great Theology of the Body film also, although some conundrums would be purely hypothetical. "Twilight" is all about laying down your life for another, whether Bella for her Mom, Edward for Bella, Edward's family for Bella, Carlisle for Edward, etc. It's a chain that just goes on and on.
There's no God so far in the world of "Twilight," but the principles are definitely Judaeo-Christian. There are promises and pacts made that reflect an unquestioning sacredness for human life and relationships.
"Twilight" doesn't quite hit its stride until about twenty minutes into the film. As a matter of fact, it takes itself too seriously until then, and is humorous in places it's not supposed to be (Edward looks like he's going to throw up rather than being overcome with passion when he meets Bella. Edward looks like the Snoopy-vulture cartoon, over-obviously staring and brooding in the background). The "buttons"--how a scene ends--should be punchy, but they're very weak in the beginning. But stick with "Twilight," and it gets good. It's total suspense because we have no idea what's coming next, and Act Three turns drastic as Bella becomes the obsession of a sinister band of human-hunting vampires. I gave the movie four stars despite these problems, because, as in life, it's not how you begin but how you end that counts.
--I'd like to know—beyond "love at first sight"—what Edward and Bella see in each other. WHY are they so attracted?
--The Bella/Edward "meet-cute" could have been much more artful than the Cullen vampire family filing into the school cafeteria while Bella's new friends gossip about them.
--Why do vampires bother going to school? And WHY would they want to be stuck in high school forever?
--How can Bella and Edward "live a long life" together if Edward will always be 17? (I'm sure this will be resolved….)
A word about the DIRECTOR. Catherine Hardwicke, who was raised Presbyterian, ("Thirteen," "Lords of Dogtown," "Nativity Story") gets teens. Her four movies celebrate teens. If there's a particularly feminine sensibility in her work, it's the interaction, conversational and otherwise between her characters. She started her movie career as a production designer and is known for her use of color ("Twilight" has a blueish tinge, especially in its outdoor scenes). Incidentally, she went to UCLA (yay!), and "Twilight" is the biggest opening weekend for a female director ever. You go, girl!
A word about the ACTORS. Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen) of the "fwoopy hair," is sort of amateurish, but this fact coupled with his stiff Britishness and struggles to cover his accent actually assists in making him "otherly." Kristen Stewart (Bella), an arguably better actor, is sometimes too twitchy, and once in a while overacts (out of character with the feel of this movie)—like the scene where she's in the hospital bed. Robert has more chemistry with her than she has with him (which evidently was also the case on the set).
A word about the MAKEUP. Can you spot the vampires? Yes you can, because they all have (unfortunately comical) white mime makeup, lipstick, and anchorperson starched hair. Almost all bear an uncanny resemblance to Grandpa Munster. However, their eyes—which they use for communication and warfare—totally hit the mark.
COOLEST SCENE: The vampire family baseball game in the thunderstorm.
COOLEST VAMPIRE: Victoria (Rachel Zoe fashion chops). NOT a vegetarian.
COOLEST LINE: "Being a vampire vegetarian is like a human only eating tofu. It gives you strength, it nourishes you, but you're never fully satisfied." –Edward
NON-COOLEST SCENE: Edward does some fancy car maneuvering, but it's in one of today's ugly little "every-car-looks-like-a-Honda-Civic-even-if-it's-a-Cadillac-and-who-cares-how-much-you-paid-for-it-it-still-looks-like-half-of-a-bowling-ball" cars.
BEST ACTOR: Bella's new friend, Jessica (Anna Kendrick)
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Get the soundtrack!
*Edward wasn't "strong enough" NOT to suck every last drop of her A positive hemoglobin out of her succulent body when he got too close to her.