Saturday, February 8, 2014

On TWILIGHT

Well, I finally did it. I finally watched TWILIGHT. I resisted this for a long time, so long, in fact, that between the spoofs, the scathing critiques, and my students' insistence that I really needed to watch it, I had built it up in my mind into a serious boogieman; a monster, of course, in the sense that what I feared in it, of course, was to see myself through a glass darkly.

But what exactly was I afraid of? That it's popularity was irretrievably changing the way vampires would be portrayed? As my student Anthea Carns pointed out, that's the nature of all monsters - they transform to fit the times. Ah, but this is not a vampire, I said  - it doesn't drink blood and it sparkles in the sunlight. But it IS a vampire, said my student Wendy Burr, just because it identifies as one - it is a part of the heritage of vampires, for better or worse. But it's just some teenybopper crap, isn't it? It's not IMPORTANT. Oh, said my student Jessica Greenstreet, but aren't you just perpetuating that exact same kind of academic elitism and isolationism, that just because it's popular means it can't be important, when, as you TAUGHT us, it is precisely because it IS popular that it is important; it speaks to the broad anxieties of its audience, and teenyboppers are humans too - humans who grow up into adults. And they were all right. Still I didn't watch it.

Was I afraid that I'd LIKE it? I don't know. I was afraid of it, though.

I knew I'd never find out what scared me so much about it unless I faced that fear, and like all fears, when I faced it, it retreated, and I wound up feeling a little silly, like I wasted a lot of time and energy on something that really wasn't so important.

TWILIGHT: no exception. It's poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted, although beautifully shot.  It's got terrible pacing problems, it's boring in places, and its supernatural aspects are thinly drawn. It is, in point of fact, seriously lacking in the pathos that draws me to monster culture in general.

BUT, luckily, my students have taught me how to have an open mind, and at Anthea's command, I kept that mind as open as I could (although she said it would probably live down to my expectations anyway) - to analyze what I SEE, and not what I hope to see or fear that I see or wish I were seeing. It's not the worst movie I've ever seen. It's not even the worst VAMPIRE movie I've ever seen - that title remains held by Ed Wood's legendary ORGY OF THE DEAD and no serious contenders have ever stepped up to challenge its horrible supremacy.

What is it? Jessica and Wendy pointed out to me that the target audience, American teenagers, are in a bit of a bind these days - not trusting their elders, as we Gen X'ers taught them, they seek to rely on their own power and find their own paths, they both desire and fear the monsters they might become if they tap into their own power. That's a powerful point of view; and I think TWILIGHT does a good job of speaking that into some kind of visibility. Also, there's all that obvious stuff about the vampirism in this piece being a metaphor for sexuality, I mean, duh, it always is, and that Edward's just trying not to (literally) fuck up the relationship.

However, I also think that there's a more profound and more immediate anxiety that Stephanie Meyer is groping towards in her hamfisted way. Like all monsters, this one disobeys its creator. Edward behaves in ways that are notoriously connected to lovers who are physically and emotionally abusive. He runs hot and cold, he's unpredictably perversely tender and ridiculously emotionally unavailable, he's often violent, he stalks her, and so on, and she becomes obsessed with him. Yeah, you see where this is going, but so the thing is that I'm pretty sure that Meyer never intended these discourses to be available to us, because if you read the film through that lens then it becomes an APOLOGY, in the ancient Greek sense, for being an abusive lover. That is to say, it explains and justifies such abuse because of the ineffable, unmentionable, awesomely sexy and dark superpowers and super-awareness of the abuser. No one understands except you, baby, and that's why I do these things to you, and so on.

So frankly I was pretty bored until the scene in the hospital when her mother is telling her the fake story they've concocted, about Edward following her to Phoenix and meeting her in a hotel, where she ACCIDENTALLY FELL DOWN THE STAIRS, BREAKING HER LEG, AND THROUGH A PLATE GLASS WINDOW, STABBING HERSELF IN THE FEMORAL ARTERY. Yeah. This is such a stupid explanation that, if that were my daughter, I'd be screaming bloody murder and demanding the police show me every goddam scrap of evidence because, come on, who would fall for that shit? So Mom's buying into it, because it's way easier than admitting that she and her new sportsy boyfriend, who by the way didn't even show up to the hospital because he's still sportsing, basically abandoned Bella to live friendless and alone with her emotionally unavailable father so they could whoop it up in Jacksonville. Suddenly I thought - what if the whole vampire story is actually something Bella cooked up in her subconscious so she wouldn't have to deal with the real truth: that Dreamy McPancake-Makeup beat the shit out of her, and STILL her only fear is that he might leave her.

The fact that when Dreamy tells her to go live in Jacksonville and she FREAKS THE FUCK OUT is the first and only time Bella ever shows any emotion whatsoever in the whole movie only adds weight to my notion. I was starting to think that Kristen Stewart had been carved out of a single block of some kind of pale wood.

That's the most critically rich moment in the movie.

Conclusion: My students are awesome. TWILIGHT is not, but hey, it's part of the vampire mythos, and now I can talk about it with at least some degree of NOT IGNORANCE. 

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for seeing this, and identifying its strengths, intentional and not.

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  2. Fun...thanks for this really insightful analysis. One interesting analogy that occurred to me: the comparison of Kristen Stewart to a block of pale wood makes me think of another vampire...the Queen of the Damned...although the film version of that character...wow....the opposite of a statue...more like freakin' spiced hot cocoa...

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  3. I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts!
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