I never know quite where to stand when it comes to the Twilight films. Part of me is still a 13 year old girl who loves the romance between Bella and Edward, and part of me is a cynical 26 year old who can see dangerous themes and behaviors in the actions of the protagonists. The fact that Bella is completely dependent on Edward for even her happiness does not make the feminist in me happy… but on the other hand, the story has a way of getting under my skin — even though the sparkles make me want to roll my eyes back in my head and summon forth the greatest vampires from history to remind Stephanie Meyer what true vampires are actually like.
The release of New Moon this past week sent my friends into a tizzy. I watched them form alliances and join sides. I heard from a few who went to midnight showings and returned full of praise and those who were dragged reluctantly to the cinema and imparted various sarcastic quips that had me laughing for hours. Reviews were bantered back and forth, some praising the film and others trashing it and apologizing to the likes of Lugosi, Oldman, Lee, and Langella in advance for the “wussification” of vampires. Caught between curiosity toward this project and amusement at the abuse it is already enduring, I put aside any preconceptions and went in with an open mind. I was sitting between a college student with a bad cold and a fourteen year old munching popcorn, a good twenty minutes before the show was to start, and watched an assortment of people trickle in. Mothers, daughters, even a grandmother or two — and guys. I’m not sure if they intended to come or were dragged by their girlfriends, but about a fourth of the audience was men. They were vastly outnumbered and two of them were trashing it as I walked out afterward, but most seemed to tolerate it well enough.
So what did this jaded 26 year old reviewer think as she watched Edward break up with Bella, Jacob get all “buff,” and the Italian vampires gleefully carry out death sentences?
I hate myself, and that only means one thing. I liked it. Leaving my grouchy attitude on the street allowed me to sit back and enjoy it for what it was, vampire-lite with a touch of werewolf.
True, certain things about it still drive me insane… like how stupid Bella can be at times and how basically she is everything I am against: a co-dependent female whose entire existence is wrapped up in the man she loves, to such an extent that she ceases to function without him. Throwing yourself off a cliff, Bella? Really? Of course, the same could be said of Edward, who tries to commit suicide in a moment of super angst and emo depression. I guess there is no room for dealing with grief and moving past it when you are an eternal 17 year old. (I remember being that age, and yes, everything was a huge deal… thank God, I grew up.) Suicide is taking the selfish way out. It’s not romantic or heroic or ever an option. He deserved the smack-down the Volturi gave him.
That monumental gripe aside (and believe me, it’s nothing I dismiss readily) the movie is good. It is not as corny as the other one was and most of the laughter from the audience was in response to on-screen jokes that were genuinely funny as opposed to cheesy moments that were intended to be emotional or romantic. It also accomplished something the book never did, and that was make me consider Jacob as an alternative romantic lead opposite Bella. I almost never side with werewolves over vampires but this time around I started seeing how in many respects, he is a healthier choice for Bella than Edward is. True, he is also dangerous to her but she could have a fairly normal life with Jacob, one without angst that would still allow her to be human and have normal friendships and keep her family fairly clued in. I did not like book Jacob much, but this one seems less manipulative and doesn’t want to bait Edward as often.
I enjoyed the entire film (well, minus the montage of Bella moping for months on end — which was done very well; I loved the rotating camera around her and the change of the seasons out the window) but the better moments for me were toward the end, with the Volturi. I was excited about that aspect the moment the cast list was released and included the likes of Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning. I have enjoyed Sheen’s performances ever since I first saw him in The Queen, in which he gives a magnificent turn out as former Prime Minister Tony Blair. It is apparent that he had a lot of fun with New Moon, since his Aro has a rather sadistic sense of humor and a sort of creepy charm. It’s as if he has undertaken the persona of Anne Rice’s eerie Armand and injected heroin into his veins. It’s a risky approach to the character but one that worked well. (It’s also adorable that his daughter’s popularity at school has gone up a notch as a result. Not every kid has daddy playing the head of the Volturi!)
One thing that continues to intrigue me is how popular this series actually is. Vampires in high school have been done before, as has the concept of a vampire falling in love with a mortal. Werewolves are no stranger to the genre either, yet it is this saga that turns out female fans in the millions to cinemas and bookstores. I cannot walk through a single store, literary or not, without coming across memorabilia or copies of the books. It is a movement that drives veteran vampire fans nuts (just mention it to any of them, and a lot of screaming and profanity is likely to be used) and continues to seduce in new recruits by the hundreds. Why?? I honestly do not know. It cannot be the heroine, because she is rather forgettable. It must therefore be the heroes then, or something I am unaware of. Maybe it is the desire our culture has for immortality combined with the yearning young women have to be not only loved but looked after. It might be the backlash of too much feminism and the return of gentlemen.
Or maybe it is just the notion that somewhere out there, true love actually exists.