I haven’t seen New Moon. I’ve seen the trailers, and heard the instant purring of teen girls when that first shot of Robert Pattinson appeared on the screen, hair going every which way and the thin rouge lips of a Parisian prostitute puckered in a perpetual grimace. I could only fathom their attraction to this androgynous caricature when I saw the boys that accompanied these girls: matted hair in their eyes, milkworm skin with just the hint of pubescent stubble, bottomed by skinny jeans that would require pliers to pull up the zipper. Pattinson is their archetypal epitome. The ultimate in neo-goth trendsetting. I mean, he is a vampire. But his fan base goes beyond the obvious teenage girls (and the wiry, skinny jean wearing boys by extension) and hits an estrogenic demographic I have not witnessed in pop culture since Leo’s dirty blond locks bobbed on the scrim of an icy Atlantic.
I haven’t seen New Moon, not only because I’m a guy, and by default my penis would be excluded from any pre-screenings or previews, but because every woman in North America, old and young, showed up those male nerds who might speak Klingon or own a Stormtrooper suit, and broke every conceivable opening day record on the books. These self-proclaimed Twi-hards have created a new cinematic caste producers have been vying to harness since Romeo committed suicide to proclaim his undying love for Juliet. And I think that’s fair. I say this with some trepidation, of course, but why would it not be? For years we’ve had our Star Wars and Batmans, we’ve had our superheroes and super villains, and we’ve dragged our girlfriends and wives with us despite certain protestations so they could witness our transfixed stares and our boyhood wishes come to fruition, only to bear the brunt of our childish whining once we realized how dashed our expectations truly were. I’m still not certain what kind of response we expect when we make such claims as: George Lucas raped my childhood. I think every woman is turning to us with devilish grins, uttering: it’s our turn now, and we’re forced to take it to account for the equity in film and therefore the conclusive liberalization of Hollywood. And I have no problem with that. At least, I didn’t until I actually watched Twilight.
It was my wife’s suggestion: perhaps her interest had been piqued by the very same female colleagues who idolized the boyish good looks of Zac Efron as he sang in angst-ridden and love-struck soliloquies to a young viewer with dreams of living in a universe where Glee is realistic. My wife hadn’t read the Twilight books, so I can account for her good tastes, but curiosity can sometimes make an ugly bedfellow. Twilight was on our local movie superstation, so instead of testing the waters of a frigid night, we sank into our couch and I decided, for the moment, to relinquish any impulse to scoff and just enjoy myself. Any why not? This series had virtually lobotomized my sister and aunt, provoking a pilgrimage to Vancouver in an effort to catch even a glimpse of Edward beneath the Linus-haze of soot that is so characteristic of the gossip-rag version of Rob Pattinson. They had to settle with Taylor Lautner, but after judging his physical transformation in this new movie, at least they were able to gawk at a masculine stature rather than a stick-thin anaemic “vegetarian vampire” with an Elvis-coif. But if this series could induce two married women to abandon their children for one weekend, certainly there must be some merit to the content.
I didn’t get it. That’s what it all came down to. Maybe my penis is the difference…the right amount of class to build an immunity. I don’t know. I asked my wife, and after a moment of contemplation she only nodded her head and said: “I don’t understand the lust for Pattinson, but I do understand the implicit sexual tension between Edward and Bella.” Implicit, I might add, only because this certain tract came from the imagination of a Mormon woman who sought not coitus for her opus but a different transmission of fluids; it’s as if Stephenie Meyer thought it prudent to fortify her faithful adherence to premarital abstinence with a Freudian nudge to oral play. The movie plays with those sorts of assumptions: Bella, a plain girl by any stretch of the imagination, moves to a dreary Washington town only to be reified by every high school boy imaginable. If it was Meyer’s intention to create the every-woman or the plain-Jane, she failed miserably. How can she expect her reader to empathize with a character who is constantly asked to the prom? Are we supposed to feel sorry for her because her father, the town sheriff, had grown accustomed to single life and is now just adjusting to her presence? Instead of home-cooked meals, we see her suffering over burgers and fries at the local diner where a variety of happy townies make her feel like part of the family. She doesn’t have to struggle with the challenges of fitting in; it just happens by virtue of Meyer’s authorial power. Her only real conflict results in her relationship with Edward, the pale loner with mischievous eyes and a penchant for popped collars. We know he is a vampire: I haven’t read the books and I knew. Yet the expository first two acts of this movie deal with Bella’s investigation and resulting discovery of Edward’s true nature, culminating in a moral that Meyer seemingly ignores. You can judge a book by its cover, for Edward is really a senior citizen in a teenager’s body, but it’s his glossy outward appearance, and not the grandfatherly wisdom within, that Bella (and the rest of the female world, with the exception of my wife) is attracted to. And I say this only to compound the fact that Edward treats Bella like an outcast, like a leper. I learned, in time, it was because her scent was like nothing he had ever confronted, and it took every ounce of his soulless convictions to keep from consuming her. But I knew this was not a threat: the damn movie has three sequels. The stories are told from Bella’s perspective. If she was in any danger, I didn’t care. I didn’t notice. I was just blown away by Edward’s sparkling diamond-skin, an invention by Meyer for vampires in her universe. Everything about her vampires defamiliarizes convention, and I did not have a problem with that. If literary inventions were all bound by canon, then innovation would be a thing of the past. I can only applaud Meyer’s creativity.
I struggled with the movie because as a film it was poorly executed. Twilight took visual effects back two decades, and it seemed to expound the Saved by the Bell school of acting, though with a ruminative edge that would appeal to today’s darker youth. So having seen the first movie in the “saga,” I was left not with an understanding of the mass hysteria surrounding the franchise and a “good-on-you” to women with a claim to a filmic empire all their own, but an empty remorse that this…this calibre of story-telling had become a benchmark that would further define future genres. We can all thank Twilight for True Blood and Vampire Diaries. Thank you. But who’s to blame? I’ve read reviews of New Moon that have come off sounding misogynistic, written by elitist “fanboys” who nearly considered suicide the moment a girlie move de-throned The Dark Knight. There’s a bias involved in those aspersions that cast criticism not on the content but on the success. I would agree, the content is undeserving of such success, but maybe speaking as an author myself, my own perspective is twisted by an invidious regret that I hadn’t come up with Edward and Bella. I think partial blame is on what I call the Perez Hilton generation, those teens and tweens who grew up with the internet and now rely on an openly gay blogger for their daily news, imbued with all of his crass ideological presumptions. His fame relies on the conformity of his younger readers, and if he relishes in sexual fantasies of Robert Pattinson by scribing crudely drawn genitalia on candid photos of the star, these young kids only adore him more because they see this as some eldritch seal of approval. But there is a certain trend starting here: I see it every day. Any criticism of Twilight invites vitriolic ad hominen attacks from innocent little girls who otherwise would not hurt a fly. To them, the source material is above reproach. If anything, Stephenie Meyer found a niche and she’s exploited it. I sometimes harass my younger cousins about the series, voicing my suspicions of its merits, and the response I always garner is: “well, have you read the books?” I can only respond: “I tried while I was taking a shit and let me tell you, had I run out of toilet paper, I would not have worried.”
Maybe that’s what Twilight is for guys the world over: literary and filmic toilet paper. And by virtue of exchange, I’m certain those Twi-hards would shout the same about our beloved Star Wars. But Darth Vader could kick Edward’s ass.
Ryan Christensen is a new contributor to The Film Stage. He has written a trilogy of novels in which one can find more about here and this his first of hopefully many contributions to the site.