Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor
The Twilight Saga’s run of movies is at an end–although “The Host” waits in the wings–and I was one of those people who had to see the final installment in theatres, bad reviews and all. In some ways, it was my favorite of the film adaptations, as it brought us away from Bella the victim to Bella the bad-ass vampire complete with a random group of back-up vamps and lots of head-ripping fun. With violence worthy of a Tarantino film, Breaking Dawn Part 2 closed the saga appropriately. Let’s take a look back at what made the Twilight saga compelling, at least to this now not-so-closeted fan.
I considered keeping it quiet. You see, I knew I wasn’t supposed to be here, and maybe I should have been more furtive about it…donned a trench coat. OK, not in June, and especially not in the southern Virginia climate where the heat seems to seep inside even the most air-conditioned of buildings. But I might have been safe with dark glasses, a hat, a scarf. In the crowd I was joining, it might even have passed for inconspicuous.
I was relatively safe: miles away from the campus I teach at, the odds of running into any of my students were slim. And besides, if I ran into someone I knew, that meant they were there too. They’d have their own reasons not to mention it.
I should have kept it quiet, but I didn’t. I tweeted it, to the horror of some of my friends. “Do not want”, one replied. “I’m sorry”, another said. Others stayed silent, perhaps too appalled by the idea even to comment.
Where was I going? A strip club? A shady bar?
No. I went to the Eclipse premiere. To be more precise, I went to the Twilight *marathon*.
Let me back up. I’m 25 and female, so I’m “allowed” to go to the Twilight movies, although anyone outside of teenagerdom can expect some derision from their peers. But the hatred that surrounds Twilight is darker than just the branding of it as a movie for teenage girls. Media marked and packaged for women is plagued by the branding of inferiority. Often, it involves pink, or is called fluff, or is decried as trash. But while “masculine” objects can be consumed by educated men without retribution, educated women are not so lucky. I have been told that liking Twilight is “gross” by peers, worse, by peers also engaged in the academic study of children’s literature. Why?
If a man picks up a designer Star Wars t-shirt or has a statue of Yoda on his desk, it’s quirky. If he spends his weekend watching football, he’s showing pride for his university or state. If a woman reads romance novels, she’s wasting time or buying into anti-feminist rhetoric. And if that romance in question is Twilight, there are a number of people fanatical in their hatred ready to explain to her why this choice makes her a reader of one of the worst pieces of literature ever.
Yet despite that, the Twilight fans were out in force Tuesday night. I’ve been to my share of midnight releases, often just for the spectacle, as with the Star Wars prequels–I even made someone a costume and was kept company by a Sith Lord for Revenge of the Sith. But a marathon like this is different. It’s an endurance test, surrounded by true fans that likely would have shown up at 5 pm for the midnight showing even if there wasn’t a double feature to lure them in.
Was Eclipse a great movie, to inspire such fanaticism? It’s almost irrelevant as a question. These movies are their own institution: women and girls sitting near me were wearing shirts to declare their allegiances. Some of these were from the local Hot Topic, peddled by the merchandisers, with iconic graphics or pictures of the lead actors looking brooding, but even more of the shirts were handmade, glittery or hearkening back to the days of puffy paint, with sets of girls wandering around in shirts made to match those of their friends.
Being part of the crowd was an experience in itself. I quickly realized that those matching shirts served multiple functions. With the number of fans flooding the theatre, they were not unlike the coordinated outfits of families at Disney trying to keep their group together against the tide. Before the midnight showing, the theatre staff announced that every single screen had a showing of Eclipse that night. That was nothing next to seeing the announcements of the 2:45 AM showings on my way out of the theatre.
Pretty much everyone knows, want to or not, that this series is the final nail on the coffin of the “dangerous” werewolf or vampire. Instead, it is fundamentally a romance, with characters that are often labeled as cardboard cut-outs. Certainly, they are easy to characterize in those terms–Bella, the continually clumsy girl and the men who love her, Edward, the old-fashioned vampire, and Jacob, the sexually charged and dangerous werewolf.
But to call the characters wooden or empty is to miss the point, at least from the fan’s perspective. Bella doesn’t stay empty because she is a vessel for the reader, for anyone—though mostly for women—who has found their relationships lackluster, their lives disappointing, the fear of aging and dying alone too difficult to contemplate. Bella offers the ultimate escape: enter her world, and imagine what it would be like to have options, and beauty, and immortal live. Similarly, even the girls who proclaim their shared bond over loving Edward are not talking about one character—aside from his devotion and courtly, old-fashioned manners, he is himself an empty slate waiting to be filled with fantasies. This is Twilight’s brilliance: for those readers it compels, it offers a gateway to that world. And many of those who picked up the Twlight books are not readers. I heard several women seated near me for the marathon proclaim that while they were not readers, they had read all the series, and many times over. For them, the movie was one version of the fantasy made real, but still rarely a replacement for the text itself.
As the third installment, Eclipse suffers a bit from lack of clear narrative drive. At the opening, she is trying to decide whether or not to accept Edward’s proposal of marriage. By the ending, at the risk of “spoiling” the movie for you, she does accept. What happens in-between is, in terms of plot, appallingly familiar. The vampire who has been trying to kill her for two films tries again, this time with an army of newborn vampires. The werewolves growl and posture and say they’ll kill Edward’s family if they turn Bella into one of them. Bella waffles and stops fights between Edward and Jacob, declaring herself neutral territory and in the process ending up in the arms of both men.
Let’s be clear: in their arms, even in their beds, but never “in” their beds. Sexuality is everywhere in the series, but sex itself has to wait for marriage—yet another reason for the association of the series with a traditional, heteronormative, conservative, and, oh yes, anti-feminist message. Yet the same people who call the work anti-feminist ignore the value it does have as a franchise powered by female desire. While some fans take their fervor to extremes that are as easy to mock and stereotype as the overweight male Star Wars fan surrounded by action figures in his parents’ basement, most of the fans are just women: women who, for a few hours, wanted to gather and imagine themselves in a different world with romance, magic, and chivalry that was made for them.
While Breaking Dawn Part One suffered even more than Eclipse as a story of weddings and genuinely disturbing female horror, Part Two brings the adaptation to a close where a female protagonist has siezed everything she desired. Wish fulfillment? Definitely. But then, so’s Die Hard. Here’s to Twilight, Hunger Games, Mortal Instruments–and the many YA series starring fantastic young women that will no doubt follow in Twilight’s wake.