REVIEW: One spring day, a gloomy seventeen-year-old girl named Isabella (Kristen Stewart) moves from the hot deserts of Arizona to the rainy chill of Washington to live with her police chief father (Billy Burke). In the backwater town of Forks, a name almost as subtle as “Here you must choice one of two paths,” she tries to settle into her new school. It’s not easy. Half the school treats her like a weirdo and the other her like she’s their savior. Neither makes her happy. It’s a confusing first day, but she does get to sit next to Edward (Robert Pattinson), the mysterious cute boy in science class. There’s something a little different about him.
She makes an impression. Kind of. Seemingly in pain sitting next her, after class, he begs the teacher to be transferred to a different class, and then doesn’t show up for days after being told it isn’t possible. But that all changes when he finally comes back. He chats her up, they meet cute, or rather meet moody since neither seem capable of any emotion other than searing agony, and the flutterbys of love flap between them. Followed by staring. A lot of staring. Seriously. From across the desk. Across the hall. Across the room. Across the parking lot. Staring is a big thing here.
Then something amazing happens. One day, standing next to her car, a van nearly kills Bella after losing control in a patch of ice. Just when it looks like she is about to be crushed, in swoops Edward who, with superhuman strength, not only stops the collision, denting the van with his outstretched hand, but also finds time to, well, stare. This is really important to these people.
Afterward, Edward, steadily traveling between along two distinct points on the emotional spectrum, dips from mildly amused to militantly gloomy. He tells her that they should stop being friends, that it’s better if she ignore him, even though he seems to, at every given opportunity, approach and pointedly harass her. She says she can’t take the shifts, but wants to try to be closer. She’s smitten, and honestly, what girl wouldn’t be who isn’t suffering from serious boundary and co-dependency issues? He asks her, “What if I’m not the good guy. What if I’m the bad guy?” The question is lost on Bella.
She invites him to the beach with some other friends but they aren’t really his crowd so he declines. Bella goes without him so she can mope about in a van and talk about more pressing matters, such as who is asking whom to the prom. Thankfully, Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and a few pals show up and steer the conversation back to Edward and his cooky family, the Cullen’s. Who is Jacob you ask? Jacob is, of course, the attractive Native American boy who has a thing for Bella but won’t admit it. Bella and Jacob eventually go for a walk along the miserably grey beach and Jacob tells her how his tribe is actually descended from a long line of wolves. The Cullen’s are their enemy, whom they made a treaty with long ago that forced the Cullen’s off their land. They packed up and left, but recently moved back.
Meanwhile, bodies are stacking up. One man is mysteriously mauled to death by an animal, though we know that’s not entirely true. Next, another man is killed but this time we see that he is the victim of some familiar faces. Two of them are of the Cullen’s clan. It’s feeding time in Forks. The next day, the sun makes a rare appearance, and surprisingly, the Cullen’s do the opposite. They are a no-show at school. Bella is told that whenever the weather turns sunny, the Cullen’s family disappear, apparently off hiking or camping. It’s all very mysterious.
Directed Catherine Hardwicke, who brought us the truly wonderful other coming of age story Thirteen, and based on the book by Stephenie Meyer, Twilight is the story of teenage sexual maturation poorly hidden under the guise of a vampire tale. Nearly every scene is a metaphor for exploration, curiosity, and more, mostly as seen from the eyes of an angst-ridden girl. Some are subtle, others not so much, such as when a boy on the beach, holding what appears to be a length of mooring rope washed up on the beach, playfully chases a girl, calling it a snake, while she screams “It touched my hand.” Draw your own conclusions.
But it’s also about abstinence, at least that’s what Edward represents. He’s a boy that wants a girl so bad he can’t even be in the same room with her sometimes. His desire is overwhelming. When they do get close and he reveals he’s a vampire, he dreads having her near for fear of sinking his fangs in, just the tip, and not being able to stop going all the way. Yet that is exactly what Bella wants, not caring about the consequences. Even if it means death, bringing the “I’d die for you” expression to a literal conclusion. There’s no doubting Edward’s good looks. The guy can brood and make girls swoon. But the film is far too heavy-handed and dismal for its own good, trying too hard to line all the characters up into very specific shapes and colors. Often silly and nonsensical dialogue further keeps things at a low point, frustratingly so. Still, the target audience clamored, no doubt for the same reason Titanic and Boy Bands are popular. It has that aplenty. What it doesn’t have is charm and affection for its viewers.
That Moment In: Twilight
Scene Setup: Bella’s been putting things together now for awhile. She’s noticed a lot about Edward, doing some research about his cold skin, super strength and fear of sunlight. There’s really only one answer because there’s no way science could explain any of it: He’s a vampire. So she leads him into the woods on a dreary grey day and confronts him. She tells him she knows who and what he is.
The Scene: (Time stamp 0:48:00) All the clues have been there and Bella’s convinced that Edward is not who he pretends to be. Edward knows she’s guessed it right and demands that she call him what he is, telling her repeatedly to say it. The word “vampire” parts from her lips and there’s a kind of relief in the confession. But she refuses to believe it, which prompts him to try some more powerful persuasion. He puts her on his back and carries her to the top of the mountain, out of the fog bank, but does so at super speed, which should convince her right then and there, but doesn’t.
Once at the top, Eward puts her down and literally exposes himself. His bare chest at least. The beam of sun that has broken through the thick forest canopy shines on him like a spotlight, making him glitter as if he’s made of stardust. Bella tells him he’s beautiful. Now comes the brutal part. Edward tells her he’s not. He is a killer and everything about him is designed to lure people like her: his voice, his face, his scent. He’s the world’s most dangerous predator. But this does nothing to curb Bella’s attraction. In fact, it does the opposite. She’s doesn’t care that he’s killed people before, or that he in fact, wants to kill her. He has never wanted a human’s blood more than her’s in his entire life, and tells her that his family is different from other vampires. They have chosen to live off the blood of animals rather than humans, but Bella is something too powerful for him to resist. Her scent, her allure, is like is own personal heroin and it’s overwhelming him to the point of madness. He’s not sure he can control himself. She trusts him to be able to. She is afraid, but afraid she will lose him rather of dying. They agree to try and then lie down in the tall grass and let the burning sun glimmer on his face.
What’s happening here is obvious. Edward wants Bella sexually, at least metaphorically, so badly he is ready to jump out of his skin. There’s not a guy of the right age that can’t identify with that. Edward is in pain trying to suppress that aching need. It’s great how he moves around the scene, swooshing about Belle while she stands in one place, as if in orbit, dancing in circles trying to find a place near her that allows him to be in control. He ends up in the tangled limbs of a moss-covered tree and perches like a bird above her. The camera too swings around her as well, keeping us a little disoriented, much like her. Where is he going? What is he saying? She remains mostly fixed, eyes watching him glide around her.
What’s most effective is Edward’s total disclosure. For half the film, we’ve watched him elude her, sometimes to the point of running away, so it’s particularly satisfying to have him finally all in. While we are not surprised at all concerning who he is, the acknowledgement of it to Bella is the right thing to do, and it’s smart to stop with the ambiguity and get to the real matter at hand. The audience has known from the beginning he is a vampire, and to keep dragging out the inevitable confession is tiring, especially since it couldn’t possibly be any more clear that he and the other Cullen family members are one-hundred percent vampires. Or freaks.
Sex is the name of the game here and this is one of the film’s better moments, working as a metaphor for a couple’s first sexual encounter, even if isn’t quite all the way. From the girl leading the boy to a permissive place, to their confessions about their desires and instincts. The way Edward hovers over her and teases her with lustful confessions, and how she continually allows him to press closer. He is respectful to a degree, and hints at wanting more but waits for her to move to him and she doesn’t disappoint, sliding close, assuring him with every word. In the movie’s most touching moment, Edward finally puts his arms on either side of her as she backs against a rock face. It is the beginnings of physical intimacy, a gesture that is beautifully sensual, wonderfully innocent, and perfectly shot.
Melissa Rosenberg (screenplay), Stephenie Meyer (novel)
Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke