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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Twilight Thoughts

It’s finally the opening weekend of Twilight, the much-hyped movie adaptation of the first book in Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling normal-girl-falls-in-love-with-teen-vampire book series. The hardcore fans of the series have been waiting with bated breath for months, biding their time until the film’s release date by obsessing over the minutae of the production process, from casting decisions to locations, from special effects to song choices.
One thing that fans haven’t seemed to spend a great deal of time and energy on, though, is the backlash against the series that started simmering back in August when feminists started getting wind of what the book series is about. There was a brief flurry of feminist rants that was spurred, in part, by author Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries) slamming the book (which she’d not even read) on her blog, saying, in part, “Do you honestly think I’d like a story about a girl considering changing SPECIES for a guy? No offense to any of you, but as a feminist, I just can’t go there… ”

The anti-Twilight writings, which took place largely in various online forums, deplored the perceived passivity of the books’ heroine, Bella Swan, an average, clumsy teenage girl who falls in love with a 17-year-old vampire who’s much older than he appears. Bella was promptly labeled a “Mary Sue” by the anti-Twilight set — a derogatory term that implies a female character who is passively acted upon rather than taking action, is overly idealized, and exists primarily as a vessel for fulfilling the author’s fantasies. Interestingly, though, when I had the opportunity to interview the cast, screenwriter and director at the LA junket recently, none of them seemed aware of the backlash.
Lead actress Kristen Stewart had this to say on the subject: “I’d love to talk to them, really. When I read like little brief descriptions of the movie, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be part of this very set, unrealistic, ideological idea of love and push it on every little girl, because they’re never going to get that. But the vampire in our story is entirely damaged, and Bella wears the pants in the relationship, she is the sure-footed, confident one. She’s naive to the world of vampires and everything like that but she’s not doing it for him… It takes a lot of power and a lot of strength to subject yourself to somebody completely and to give up the power and it has to start there… The fact that she is … so trusting of herself, it really has nothing to do with Edward and giving herself to him and being this sort of weak damsel in distress, it’s very courageous what she’s doing. She’s like, believing whatever that’s inside her. It’s a very personal thing she’s going through, it really has nothing to do with Edward.” When pressed on whether she felt there was truth to the criticism that Edward’s behavior borders on abusive or controlling, though, Stewart added, “It’s totally self-inflicted. Girls are like that, girls take a lot of crap. They subject themselves to abuse, it’s like they need it.”
Ashley Greene, who plays Alice, the vampire sister of Twilight’s vamp-hero Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), had her own take on the feminist view of the series. “I think it’s ludicrous. I think that people unfortunately are going to try to pick and find things wrong with it … It’s a love story. He’s a vampire, he’s not a normal kid, and he’s not some guy who’s abusive, who’s beating people up; he loves Bella, he doesn’t want to hurt her at all. He loves her so passionately that he’s trying to stay away from her, but he can’t. And I think Bella’s a strong character for being able to put up with things like that and accept it, and understand it, and not run away terrified like most girls would. And I think they did a really great job of portraying Edward in the film, portraying his turmoil, that he’s not a perfect man, and she responds to that, to him unconditionally loving her. No, I don’t think there’s anything bad in that.”
Which brings us around to one thing I haven’t seen discussed a lot in the myriad conversations I’ve followed and articles I’ve read analyzing Twilight: the somewhat unsettling, unspoken aspect of the relationship between Bella and Edward: Bella is 17 and Edward, though frozen in time physically at 17, has lived 109 years. Talk about your May-September romance. What’s fascinating to me about this, though, is what it says about both Bella and Edward as characters; Bella is a teenager who relates more strongly to a man who’d lived nearly a century before she was even born than she does to other boys her age, whereas it’s taken Edward over nine decades to get to the point of finding love and being ready for a commitment to a relationship. Which, as a lot of women might tell you, rings true in more ways than one, but still, it’s intriguing to me that most of the fans of the book view Edward as a teenager and not as an old man in a teenage body; the latter, of course, would involve rationalizing the predatory aspects of an old vampire in the guise of a teenager setting his sights on a young girl. I suppose, if we want to give Edward the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the decades he’s lived without love speaks more to his conflicted feelings over his vampire existence.
That’s kind of the thing about vampires that makes them so intriguing as literary characters, I guess — they’re eternally stuck at the age at which they were changed, both cursed and blessed never to physically grow older, even as internally they presumably do have the ability to learn, to change and to grow. Edward, for instance, is a talented musician, having had centuries of practice to develop his skills; all the Cullens have chosen to live a life free of killing humans for food although most of them have hunted humans in the past, so we can assume that in the world of Meyer’s vampire lore, vampires do have the ability to grow and evolve morally. Carlisle and Esme, Rosalie and Emmett, and Alice and Jasper are all paired with eternal partners; Edward alone of the Cullen family has lived a solitary life romantically speaking, until he meets Bella, the one human above all others whose blood makes him thirst to kill.
It’s really a rather interesting set-up for a storyline, and in a lot of ways I almost wish they’d chosen to develop Twilight as a fairly edgy television series ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which would have allowed for a broader exploration of those aspects of the Twilight saga I find most interesting (and for what it’s worth, Rosenberg, who also co-produces and writes serial-killer series Dexter, probably could have done a decent job with such an effort, given the time to do it right). Bella rhapsodizing endlessly about Edward’s physical perfection and magical, sparkling skin, I don’t need to see a whole lot of on the screen; a deeper exploration of the psychology of what it’s like to be a vampire, with a somewhat different take than, say, Buffy’s relationships with Angel and Spike in Joss Whedon’s excellent series, could have been intriguing in the episodic format of a series, if done well.
Pattinson’s performance is mostly fine, and his Edward should satisfy the inner fantasies of the hardcore Twilight fans in breathing life into their beloved teen vampire, but personally, I found myself somewhat longing for the more nuanced vampire angst portrayed by David Boreanz as Angel and James Marsters as Spike in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel television series. If you were a fan of those shows, you know what I’m talking about: both Angel and Spike (vampires) loved Buffy, a human sworn to kill their kind; it was a great set-up for a conflicted love story — much as the Bella-Edward conflict is — but if you compare the ways in which Boreanz and Marsden conveyed their inner anguish to Pattison’s portrayal of Edward, the former did a better job of arcing their characters in more subtle ways. To be perfectly fair, though, both those actors had the benefit of multiple episodes across several seasons in which to develop their roles, whereas Pattinson thus far has only had this one, two-hour film to develop Edward, so perhaps over the next couple of movies we’ll see growth in the way in which he portrays the character.

5 Responses to “Twilight Thoughts”

  1. Aladdin Sane says:

    FYI, it’s James Marsters, not Marsden.

  2. Kim Voynar says:

    A.S. — Correction made, and thanks much for pointing out my error there. Should have caught that myself, considering James Marsters (at least in his Spike persona) was a frequent visitor to my dreams back when I watched Buffy regularly, whereas Marsden has never (so far as I recall) made a nocturnal appearance, not even as Prince Charming.

  3. Rodrigo says:

    Love your column and blog, Kim. You’re a great contribution to MCN and I’ve been refreshed by your thoughts and approach since you joined. That said, and aside from the feminist subtext of “Twilight” (about which you are spot on), did you not find the movie to be amateurish and sloppy? The score is all over the place (strumming guitars give way to jolts of electric riff regardless of the scene’s tone or events), the cinematography amounts to an infinite repetition of sudden, lurching crane shots that circle up and around whenever possible (the “big reveal,” relocated from Edward’s car in the book to a beautiful forest clearing on screen, is so inexplicably photographed, in circles then quick pans, that it disarmed Bella’s reaction from any sense of urgency or emotional verve), and the editing is a textbook high school film class mess. The acting is laughably wooden, the dialogue as bad as the book’s, and the characters can’t blossom in Hardwicke’s film world. I was left speechless. In a bad way.

  4. I did a piece on the film on my own site (click on my name for the essay and the general review, if you care). Basically, I found the film (based purely on what happened onscreen as I haven’t read the books) to be incredibly sexist, mainly because it operates on the two main myths that have justified female persecution over the centuries (that women are devious creatures who trick men to do vice and corruption, but also that women are weak and need to be watched and protected at all times). But it is in the end an escapist fantasy for females, and I’ll assume that most girls who see the movie are (or will eventually be) smart enough to enjoy the fantasy while ignoring or discussing the more disturbing gender politics underneath.
    I was must more unnerved by Enchanted, which served its anti-feminist fairy-tale gunk at a demographic far too young to separate the wheat from the chaff (while pretending to be a feminist spoof of said tripe). If I can decry vigilantism and applaud due process while still enjoying Batman films or The Devil’s Advocate, then feminists can still enjoy Twilight as entertainment.
    As for the film, despite my misgivings, I did enjoy it more or less. I didn’t buy the dreamy romance at all (Edward is kind of an ass, all things considered… Bella could have done much better), but everything else was pretty compelling and entertaining (the relationship with her father, the down to earth schoolmates, the foreboding but quirky native americans, the goofily polite vampire family, etc). Ironically, according to the New York Magazine, much of the stuff that I liked about Twilight were alterations and additions not found in the original book.

  5. Kim Voynar says:

    Thanks for the kind remarks. While I agree with you on some of the issues with the film from a technical standpoint, I just think the audience the film is targeted at doesn’t care. When you see it in a theater packed with Twilight fans, the audible gasps and oohing and aahing every time Jacob and Edward are on screen … that’s what they’re reacting to. And I disagree with you on the acting, at least with regard to Stewart, who I think gave a fine performance and worked hard on a professional level to bring something to the part. I even liked Billy Burke as Charlie.
    The problems I saw had less to do with the acting than with the script and, in certain instances, the direction. There is, as you noted, some truly atrocious diaglog in the film, but much of that was lifted from the book, as Rosenberg stayed largely faithful to it in that respect. “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb …” may have read okay on the page, but there’s just no way to say those lines on film and have them come out sounding less than cheesy. I mean, I don’t care if it was DiCaprio and Winslet, there’s just no way to give certain lines in the film any sort of legitimate gravitas.
    I had a larger issue with the complete lack of development of Jasper, who actually has one of the more interesting backgrounds in the series. In the film, he was reduced to little more than wandering around with Alice, constantly looking like he was in pain from just having wisdom teeth extracted or something. I thought when I saw the film that perhaps that was more the fault of the actor, but when I interviewed Rathbone I found him energetic and engaging with some interesting perspectives on the characters, and he was very animated at the press conference as well. So either his acting is really bad, or he was directed poorly, and I tend to lean toward it being a combination of the latter, and of him having very little material in the script to work from.
    I liked the visual look of the film fine — the blue tones worked well for the rainy Pacific Northwest setting, but you make some good points re some of the shots and editing. And agreed about how the big reveal had more dramatic tension with her trapped in the car with him than wandering through the woods and meadow. Overall, I was happy that my daughter and her friends were ecstatic about it, at least, and perhaps a slightly higher budget on the next film will help out in the special effects department, especially as they have to figure out turning Jacob into a wolf without it looking cheesy. And please, someone do something about Carlisle’s makeup, so he doesn’t look like he was attacked by a tribe of rabid Mary Kay saleswomen attempting theatrical makeup. Peter Facinelli strikes me as a very nice chap, and he deserves better.
    And Scott … longer piece coming up shortly in my Voynaristic column that talks, in part, about your piece.

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“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima

“They’re still talking about the ‘cathedral of cinema,’ the ‘communal experience,’ blah blah. The experiences I’ve had recently in the theatre have not been good. There’s commercials, noise, cellphones. I was watching Colette at the Varsity, and halfway through red flashes came up at the bottom of the frame. A woman came out and said, ‘We’re going to have to reboot, so take fifteen minutes and come back.’ Then they rebooted it from the beginning, and she had to ask the audience to tell her how far to go. You tell me, is that a great experience? I generally don’t watch movies in a cinema at all. Netflix is the future. It’s the present. But the whole paradigm of a series, binge-watching, it’s quite different. My first reaction is that it’s more novelistic, because if you have an eight-hour season, you can get into complex, intricate things. You can let it breathe and the audience expectations are such that they will let you, where before they wouldn’t have the patience. I think only the surface has been touched with experimenting with that.”
~ David Cronenberg