Twilight: Breaking Dawn
I want to talk about the id. See, Sigmund Freud, the crazy granddad of psychology, had a theory. The simple (and mercifully short) version is that the mind is broken up into three areas; the superego, ego and id, the last of these being a sack of basic animal desires and emotions. I feel this last part comes in very handy to explain the appeal of properties such as Real Steel, Transformers and Twilight, as these films’ sole aim is to connect straight to the id of their audiences. They do so roughly and without subtlety, and hope like hell that the connection they forge is enough to overcome their artistic failings. As for how they do, well, Real Steel succeeds, Transformers fails abysmally and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 falls somewhere in between.
Breaking Dawn is the Twilight book in which Meyer stopped her flirtation with insanity, and instead went straight for its trousers. It’s an odd read, transitioning the Twilight series out of the “love-me, love-me-not” plot that took up her three former novels, into something more resembling a cross between horror and high fantasy. The movie, in adapting only the first half of the book (because the studio looooooves money), deals with this transitional period.
It opens with Bella’s (Kristen “lipbitin’” Stewart) marriage to Edward Cullen (Robert “silly hair” Pattinson). Onlooking is Jacob (Taylor “douchebag-tattoo” Lautner), who is pissed off at Bella for being about to become one of the vampires he despises. Despite this though, all seems reasonably simple, until Edward manages to knock Bella up. What with this being pretty unprecedented everyone freaks out, especially since the unborn child seems to be draining Bella of life. The result: a hot steaming plate of drama.
The hook of Twilight, throughout the books and the movies, is the nature of Bella and Edward’s relationship. See human beings are very attached to the idea of true love, specifically the idea that two imperfect people can make a perfect whole when they come together. It’s a powerfully attractive concept and one that Twilight embodies to the exclusion of all else. Bella and Edward are literally unable to live without each other (that’s pretty much the entire point of the second book), and the drama of their lives comes only when their feelings for each other are hindered.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well, this is the reason Twilight is successful. A large proportion of the population (especially the core teenage girl audience, pretty much programmed from childhood, by all forms of media, to respond well to the true love concept), have a big, red “I want true love” button flashing in their skulls. Twilight hammers that button home. I should know: it did it to me. This is why, despite all their flaws, I liked the books, and why I also liked this movie. However, that’s not to say I’m blind to the flaws, only that I can overlook them.
And these flaws are? Well capable at connecting to the id Stephanie Meyer might be, but she is a pretty terrible writer. Though Breaking Dawn manages to smooth out most of the problems, there is still a fair amount of clunky dialogue, and at least one pointless subplot. It is admittedly hilarious to see ridiculously horny Bella constantly pestering Edward for sex, but in that another problem rears its head.
The material of Twilight is often at the mercy of its own silliness. There are many, many scenes in Breaking Dawn where what is supposed to be serious is simply laughable, the talking wolves routine being especially ridiculous. It is good when, on occasion, Breaking Dawn is self-aware enough to crack a smile at some of its more ridiculous source material (*cough* Renesmee *cough*). But what does this mean for a film, when one of its plus points is a tacit acknowledgement of how stupid the source material is?
Added to this of course, is the problem the series has with its lupine special effects, which have been dodgy throughout the series and have yet to be solved here. Though, on the other hand, Bella’s bodily transformation was frankly exceedingly well done, and makes for an excellent ending scene.
And then we have the final issue of dodgy ideas. Twilight has long been criticised for being sexist in general, and taking a worryingly conservative view on the pro-life, pro-choice debate in particular. Now, I can’t speak for the books here: I’d need to re-read them first. But on the basis of the film, I would say two things. Firstly, that though Bella takes the pro-life position to an extremity even the Catholic Church doesn’t support, she does so in one scene, and unsupported by the subtext. Bella’s decision to sacrifice herself for her child is taken while in a terrible mental condition and is portrayed as being incredibly selfish. On the other point, well, yes Twilight is sexist. Of course it is: its main characters are utterly dependent on each other. That’s the central conceit: without that Twilight does not work. In a perfect world, sexist conceits would not sell. But such a world would be as empty of James Bond as it would be of Twilight, and I’d prefer to rid the Earth of more gratuitous sexism before eradicating these properties.
But in my opinion, the main log-jam with people and Twilight is the lack of subtlety. Earlier on I mentioned a big red button, and how Twilight likes to hammer it home. Well, in my case the button is pretty goddamn sturdy: it will take and respond to the bluntest of blows. But this is not a universal tolerance. To hook some people, a gentler, more nuanced touch is required. Unfortunately subtlety and circumspection are words foreign to the creation of Stephanie Meyer. Twilight’s forcefulness in connecting to the id makes it effective, but also polarising. Either you connect to Twilight, or you don’t. And I did. I don’t love the film, the flaws are too visible to allow that, but still, I can’t deny I enjoyed myself.
Written by Adam Brodie