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Non-Review Review: Twilight – Breaking Dawn, Part II

Here’s the thing. Despite all the derision that the Twilight films generate, they actually have any number of ingredients for a perfectly workable young adult horror romance. Despite the sizeable and significant flaws, and those fundamental issues that are very hard to overlook, the film does have a number of very clear thematic roots that can be traced back through horror cinema. The problem with Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II isn’t that it’s inherently cheesy or trashy or absurd. The problem is that it’s never enough of these things. It feels far too comfortable and too casual to ever really grab the viewer, and everything feels far too safe and generic to get any mortal’s blood pumping.

Baby trouble…

I’ll admit that I’ve always been fascinated with the vitriol that the series attracts – the irrational hatred it draws whether from other genre fans or film critics. It’s not that the films aren’t flawed. It’s very hard to argue that they aren’t a mess. However, the amount ire that the series provokes seems somewhat disproportionate. There are some very serious gender issues in the series that do merit, and the idea that Bella has anything resembling a healthy romantic life is quite unnerving.

However, for all that Bella is a completely passive character who sits by while two men argue her fate, Michael Bay’s use of Megan Fox and Rose Huntington-Whitely as little more than “walking sexy parts” in the Transformers films is frequently glossed over. What is an industry-wide problem – a lack of strong female characters – suddenly gets blown up in the discussion of this one film. The contempt felt for the “Twi-hards” when they first attended Comic Con is now geek infamy.

His one-man wolfpack…

It feels especially ridiculous that nerd culture would begrudge genre fans for liking something outside the norm, and I’m stunned that Twilight remains a topic that really can’t be discussed in reasonable terms. Even when criticisms are made, the more reasonable discussions about the series’ uncomfortable undertones are frequently drowned out by rants about “sparkling vampires” and other such nonsense. I can’t help but feel a sense of fandom snobbery here, and I can’t help but wonder if a lot of that is the fact that this is a series of fantasy novels aimed at girls using toys from what might be considered the boy’s play box.

That’s not to avoid some of the more controversial aspects of the films, which I’ll deal with in a moment. I’m not fan of Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II, but my response is more one of disengaged disappointment rather than aggressive vitriol. There’s a lot of potential to Breaking Dawn, Part II. For one thing, with the pregnancy over, there’s a lot less of the uncomfortable gender stuff in this volume.

Ever green…

While Edward and Jacob still talk about Bella as if she’s not there, and the most proactive thing Bella does is protect her man and tell another man to run, there’s a lot less of the uncomfortable scenes where a bunch of men talk about the leading lady’s reproductive rights. That doesn’t make any of the characters any more interesting, but it does tone down on some of the more awkward moments. Also, with Edward and Bella now officially married, the relationship has moved past the creepy possessive stalker phase. Breaking Dawn, Part II isn’t going to win any awards for progressive portrayals of women in cinema, but it is a massive step-up from the previous instalments.

However, more than that, I’d argue that the Twilight films actually incorporate all manner of classic horror ideas and themes, and that some of the more messed up and disturbing undertones actually tease a feast of pulp. Twilight has more than its fair share of creepy sexual implications and subtext, but that’s been a staple of the horror genre since its earliest days. Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part I featured Edward giving Bella a c-section with his teeth. Imagine how that might have looked with David or Brandon Cronenberg behind the camera.

Vamping it up…

Consider the Universal Monster movies. Stephen King argued that Dracula was a “zipless %$@!”. Frankenstein is the story of a man giving birth, the most primal reproductive horror. Professor Michael Delahoyd suggests that The Mummy is about necrophilia. The implications of incest in The Phantom of the Opera were so great that the studio had to do extensive re-working of the script. It’s all there, and Twilight‘s own unique and disturbed sexuality fits quite well.

There’s the implication of pseudo-incest between the Cullen “siblings” – even if they aren’t a family by blood. Indeed, Bella will forsake her own family and become Edward’s “sister” if they run off together. The Voltairi worry about mixed race children. These ideas bubble below the surface, and it’s not too difficult to imagine Michael Sheen’s aristocratic vampire – with his fixation of “pure blood” and fear of “change” - as something of an extreme social conservative.

The family that preys together…

More than that, there are none-too-subtle suggestions of pedophilia in Jacob’s crush on Edward and Bella’s baby. “It’s a wolf thing,” he offers in defense. In a way, he’s right. There’s a long line of research and argument that suggests that many of the acts attributed to werewolves throughout European history were actually crimes committed against children by grown men.

He defends himself by asserting that it isn’t something that he chooses. It’s something that just comes to him naturally as he “imprints” on the baby child of his two best friends. We discover that the child ages incredibly rapidly – she’ll be fully physically mature by the age of seven. This raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions about the nature of Jacob’s relationship. Even if she has the body of a twenty-something-year-old, she’s still a child.

Can’t see the woods for the trees…

And, as ever, Stephanie Meyer seems to have written a strangely plausible inter-species homosexual romance between Edward and Jacob, despite the fact that I doubt it was her intention to do so. Notice how all of their conversations about Bella don’t actually involve her. When Jacob says something, it’s Edward who responds to him personally. “Nobody said anything about moving,” Jacob protests when the Cullen clan plan to depart. Bella doesn’t answer, but Edward is surprisingly direct with a guy he claims to dislike. “Jacob, it’s not like we have a choice.”

In order to get them to stay, Jacob rats Bella out to her father. He does this by stripping naked in the garden. (He does turn into a wolf, but the scene plays it all rather camply.) “You don’t live in the world that you think you do,”Jacob advises Bella’s dad as he gets undressed. One wonders what world Jacob lives in. It’s notable that the plan certainly doesn’t make Bella’s father more comfortable with him – making it unlikely that he’d support Bella ever getting close to Jacob. One might expect, given how much sway that Jacob seems to suspect Bella’s father has over her, that her father would steal Bella away and leave Jacob and Edward together in peace.

Love blossoms…

Indeed, Jacob’s last major exchange of the movie, and the series, isn’t with Bella (apparently the object of his affection) or even her daughter (the love of his life), but with Edward. “Do I call you dad?” he asks, in a line just begging for a Freudian interpretation. Both Lautner and Pattinson play up this interpretation and it’s notable that the pair have more chemistry than Stewart has with either of her co-stars. (She is, though, still a stronger actor than Lautner, who has managed the art of staring intensely.)

However, the problem with all these creepy and unnerving elements is that Breaking Dawn seems almost afraid of them. It refuses to wholeheartedly embrace them, despite the cast’s occasionally attempts to push the story a particular direction. Everything in Twilight feels tamed. It feels more than repressed, it seems almost locked down. I don’t mind any of this pulpy subtext, but the movie refuses to really acknowledge them at all. They just sort of are. It seems afraid to make the audience just a little uncomfortable or a little awkward, so it just hedges all its bets and plays everything ridiculously safe.

Ice to see you again…

This is evident even at the climax of the film. I won’t spoil anything, but there is a significant cop out. However, even with that cop out, the film seems afraid to embrace the violence that it flirts with. Throughout the film, heads are snapped off and characters are torn apart. However, it’s more like pulling a toy figure apart, or popping a champagne cork. Even with a gigantic deus ex machina, an excuse to go all-in and to really grab the audience, the film chickens out.

There is precisely one moment at the climax of the film that feels in any way intense – and it’s the death of a minor character. It’s the one moment that feels almostas if there’s real force behind what’s happening and we aren’t just watching characters pull the wings off flies. It’s uncomfortable and (although rendered relatively cleanly considering what happens) it does give an impression of force that is otherwise lacking. It’s the one moment that the blood battle looks more intense than those backyard brawls I used to have with my brother.

I’ve taken quite a Sheen to him…

I can’t help but wonder if the special effects are somewhat to blame. I’ll confess immense frustration at the way the franchise has handled its impressive revenue. All that money from fans, and the series still can’t render convincing CGI. There are some potentially emotive shots of dogs that should affect the audience, but which fall flat because we know we’re looking at pixels rather than anything tangible.

I know that the target audience and difficulties with certification prevent the series from showing (for example) blood or gore, but there are other sophisticated ways of making an audience feel. Truth be told, you shouldn’t need blood or gore – you should be able to generate intensity through staging and editing, and Breaking Dawn simply refuses to do so. It is, to a large extent, the same problem I had with The Hunger Gamesearlier in the year. Here, there’s a moment in the film where we see a vampire feed on his prey. It should be a brutal moment, an illustration of just how much self-control the Cullen’s are demonstrating in holding back their hunger – but it seems like an almost celibate peck on the neck.

A monster family…

The same is true of the series’ depiction of super-speed. It feels like it could have come from the short-run television version of The Flash over two decades earlier. It seems a little unfortunate that the series couldn’t improve its special effects for the final instalment. That said, the sound mixing is actually quite effective, the costume design is quite lovely and many of the other trappings are actually technically solid.

The performances from the three leads are fairly reasonable. Lautner remains the least impressive. However, the adults have a good time of it. Peter Facinelli camps it up fantastically as the family’s patriarch, but he’s outshone by Michael Sheen as the head of the Voltairi. Sheen has a habit of chewing lovingly on scenery, and his performance here is no exception. There’s a fantastic moment where he utters the word “magnifico”, as if to remind us that his character is supposed to be Italian. He does this in his smoothest British accent.

The run comes to an end…

(That said, the film’s portrayal of racial and cultural stereotypes leaves a lot to be desired. “We didn’t wear white hats and call ourselves saints,” the Russian allies comment, but you can bet they have furry Russian hats in their closet. The Irish delegation have red hair and the gentleman is wearing a farmer’s cap. I half expected Edward to trip over their poitin still. The girls from the Amazon show up in loin clothes, which they are wearing days later. One wonders if they packed spares.)

I’m hesitant to admit it, but I was actually expecting a bit more pulp from this final film. Looking at all the ingredients thrown into the mix, I was expecting some solidly trashy entertainment. Instead, the movie is too tempered to run with any of the more interesting elements. Unfortunately for its leads, Breaking Dawn fails to get the blood pumping.

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12 Responses

  1. I knew I wasn’t going to like it and I knew you would review it as it should be reviewed. So thanks. Summit was bankrupt at the beginning of this series and it has become the house that Pattinson and Stewart built. They sold to Lionsgate for over 400 mil and installed their suits in takeover position at Lionsgate. It’s a dirty mess I won’t go into here, but they have been on the cheap all along. For just one: the wigs worn by some of the cast have been the cheapest, can you imagine why? I can’t. They also distributed Pattinson’s Remember Me and the female lead Emilie de Ravin wore a vintage dress in one scene that couldn’t be ripped off because of money. These people are cheapos. I’ll stop.

    I am still thinking about TDKR though.

    • Thanks.

      I didn’t know that about the dress. That is absurd. And how much money do these things rake in? It’s nuts that they can’t reinvest the money. The fans are paying huge sums of money, and it beggars belief that they couldn’t up the budget on this to get some better special effects. The other critics coming out made reference to the Six Million Dollar Man and – while I wouldn’t be that harsh – the special effects would have been passable a decade ago. Now they look like a solid TV movie – the kind of thing television Star Trek would pull off. Which is frustrating, given the return these things generate.

      Then again, as you suggest, if you have a steady income, what’s the motivation to improve?

      • Before Twilight they were a financing company really. They know nothing about movies and got a winner because of their two committed stars.I think the Summit people are film illiterate. Richard Burton commented on this in his autobiography that when he and Liz returned 10 years later the industry as they knew it was gone and the money people were in the seats.

        Melissa Rosenberg’s scripts were awful and she didn’t understand the character of Bella at all. If you read Gloria Vanderbilt’s(Anderson Cooper’s mother) Once Upon A Time, her autobiogrpahy of her early years, you will see Bella. Gloria goes to her first real dance, meets a boy not quite socially suitable, and falls in love immediately, just like Bella and spends her days fanatasizing about him and how they will see each other again. It’s the same really.

        I said in another comment about the stalking. This is Tristan and Iseult and the practice of Courtly Love which the Cathars instituted in the 12th century to the dismay of many men. It’s a fascinating legend that Meyer has retold, and which has ruled sexual rituals in the Western World for 800 years, and the Western World only.

  2. Hmm Very interesting.. I must agree with you Bella while in the books has something about her, Bell on screen is a bit of a bore and has become somewhat predicable, quite frankly I do not see what ether of them do in Bella but I guess that’s the way its supposed to be. I have read every book and seen every movie, but I have wondered how it would end as movies are never the same as the books. I did not run as see this one because their is a part of me that dose not wish this odd love story to be over. I will attend sometime next week and let you know how disappointing I am that it will never live up to the hype of the books.

  3. Your review is Insightful at the beginning, but with torture porn movies being made including “Saw,” “Hostel” and “Human Centipede,” it’s little romantic “Twilight” that you consider to be “disturbing”? You fanboys need therapy.

    • Twilight is dangerous. And men respond to this on a gut level. Edward is Tristan, and Tristan and Iseult was the legend that ruled romantic love for 800 years until the pill. Men do not want to become constrained again. It’s “Put out by the third date baby or I’m movin’ on.” And this doesn’t leave the young girl much freedom with her newly won “liberation”. If she wants to date, she is going to have to fuck. Unless she finds an Edward…….Do you know any boys or young men who want to be an Edward? God go back to the middle ages again. No no not me!

      • Mark Kermode, a critic I’m very fond of, made a similar argument – although I think it holds up better for Bella than Edward. Arguing about Bella’s lack of sexual identity is a rather politically correct way of suggesting a female character needs to be sexually active to be interesting. And I agree, to an extent.

        However, I’m not convinced that Edward is a solid romantic lead. He got a lot better as the series went on, but even overlooking the question of a several-hundred-year-old immortal and a high school girl, his behaviour in early instalments is incredibly stalkerish. And before it seems like I’m being unduly harsh or cynical just because we’re talking about Twilight, it’s not as bad as Superman’s behaviour in his films (sleeping with Lois (getting her pregnant) and then wiping her memory, spying on her homelife, bullying her into not smoking), but it’s still pretty bad. Though I will concede he mellows out as the series continues.

    • Thanks Anna. I think.

      However, there’s a bit of a logical flaw in your argument. Disliking one thing does not suggest I like another. Having a problem with Edward’s possessive stalkerish behaviour towards Bella and the fact that her important conversations involve her watching Jacob and Edward posturing doesn’t mean that I like Hostel or the Human Centepede.

      (It also doesn’t suggest that I even like them more than I like Twilight, or dislike them less. I think Twilight gets a tough rap, and I think there are some ingredients here that could work rather well – I think it’s a lot closer to the classic monster archetypes than most commentators would concede, it’s great to see a franchise like this aimed at female movie-goers who are often neglected by fantasy, and there’s a few decent ideas; the problems are discussed quite thoroughly in the review, namely lack of follow-through and no real desire to think through the implications of what unfolds. This is both on the surface level – are those two people still wearing the same loinclothes? – and a mroe fundemental one – how will Jacob’s relationship with a seven-year-old but physically-twenty-odd girl work out, and shouldn’t everybody be a bit concerned about it?)

      Interestingly, the Human Centipede came up in conversation under the topic of “the very few movies I would likely be unable to bring myself to watch to review.” Although I think the original Saw has an interesting premise and set-up, I will concede the sequels are increasingly meritless. And I can’t imagine a level on which Hostel or its sequel merit any form of discussion.

      Sorry, that was a rambling response – but I hope you appreciate what I’m arguing here. I might not love Twilight, but just because I’m a male doesn’t mean I love the Human Centipede, Hostel or Saw II+ any more.

      • Hi darren. Twilight is a Levi-Straussian retelling of Tristan and Iseult. There are inversions but that wouldn’t get in the way of a structural analysis. It is Edward who has become “Iseult” as Stephenie Meyer has created what Baudrillard suggests to save sex, the hystericized male figure to take the place of the femme fatale, who can’t find any men. Also we can’t just write off the outlandish success of 50 Shades (originally an Edward/Bella fanfic fueled by a Kriten/Rob real life relationship, PR or not) and Dom/sub that obviously women are longing for in their fantasy life. Since the Tristan and Iseult legend held sway as the pattern for romance literature, music, fantasy, sex and rituals of courtship and marriage since the 12th century until the 1960’s and The Pill, it is a serious Foucauldian “CUT” in the history of sexuality that Meyer has ripped the scab off. It is dangerous as you can see from the fandom. They are fanatics and have been encouraged with fan fiction.net into porno fantasies so administrators of sites can pimp Twilight and Rob Pattinson for their own purposes. $$$

        The “stalking” comes right out of Tristan and Iseult. And the practice of akesis in Courtly Love, which is where it needs to be understood. The sleeping in the bedroom with milady until they can sleep beside each other nude without sex as the procedure goes.

        The Jacob imprinting is really a fictionalized way of expressing the loss of representation, the signifier and the signified. The balloons sail up in the sky and all his ties to the past are gone. In their place is a steel cord of Love. DeLillo’s Cosmopolis addresses the loss of representation with Benno rambling on about how sounds and words just don’t fit together and then we arrive at Foucault as always, with the loss of representation in art,language, pscyhology, and Baudrillard takes it from there and Zizek carries on.

        If we stay with a psychological interpretation of Twilight we get in all this sticky icky stuff.

      • Thanks for the insightful response, and I think there’s a lot to it. Although I still find it a little uncomfortable, regardless of how much we may try to avoid the Fruedian subtext. The Courtly Love observation is fascinating, and – as noted above – there is something to be said for a romance not immediately based around sex – but the structuring of the story means that it has to be non-consensual, which makes the scenes rather intrusive and disturbing, at least to me.

        You do, as ever, give a great deal to chew over, though. I think to be entirely honest, my own interpretation is rooted in my own interest in pop psychology subtext (which even I will concede occasionally goes too far), rather than an obviously in-depth knowledge of the classics.

        Thanks again for taking the time to reply, it’s always nice to get somebody who knows their stuff.

      • I cherish any compliments you toss my way. I am working on Tristan and Iseult as a way of explaining the frenzy, which was not unlike what occurred in the 12th century. Actually it was far worse then.

        a

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