Cold Light of (Mon)day: Twilight (2008)

Before we get into this, I’m going to take you back in time to 2006, back before there was a hint that Twilight would turn into a ‘saga’ and the concept of it becoming an epic film franchise, with more merchandise than tween consumers could poke a stick at was something that even the most soulless movie mogul hadn’t yet dreamed up. We’re going back to a time before people thought it would be a tip-top idea to get Twilight tattoos, back to a time when Stephanie Meyer’s debut book was naught but an uncorrected proof that had been sent out pre-release, to all good book sellers so that bookshop staff had a chance to read it and possibly recommend it to tween readers and soccer moms who knew they wanted to read something light and romantic, but didn’t know what.

twilight book
(The uncorrected proof – just so you know I’m on the level)

That was the time in which I came to Twilight. The uncorrected proof had been sitting on the back shelf of the bookstore at which I was casually employed for some time, with very little attention having been paid to it, it was stuck up there with all the other uncorrected proofs that no one had time to read or that just looked too boring to devote a weekend to. Unlike the others thought, Twilight was just waiting to be discovered – by me. I was coming up to a long weekend, which had been forecast for rain and general shitty weather and I was broke and hard up for something to read. I picked up the book after seeing it was about vampires, figuring anything featuring my undead friends was bound to be tolerable, and off I went. At this point in time I had no idea that Stephanie Meyer was a die-hard Mormon, or that she was pushing a Mormon agenda, nor did I have any clue who Kirsten Stewart or Robert Pattinson were… I wish that were still the case.

who these peeps
(who the hell are these guys? I don’t even know… wait, that’s the girl from Panic Room. Okay, cool. Yeah, he’s got pretty awesome hair, but otherwise, I am unmoved – I’m a reasonable person, I’ll give them benefit of the doubt)

I managed to knock the book over in the space of the weekend and have the vivid memory of spending my last $12 on ingredients for Enchiladas after reading the scene in which Bella prepares them while day dreaming about the mysterious Edward Cullen. To this day, I still love enchiladas. In fact, I had them for dinner last night, before writing this, as a consolation prize to myself for sitting through most of the film – but we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s stay in 2006 for a moment longer.

So, I was rather taken with the book, not because of the way it was written or even because of the love story or the heroine… actually Bella Swan kind of shits me, she always has. What I did love about the book was the way that it reminded me of how wonderfully hopeful it is to be 16 and have your first solid high school crush. The breathless excitement of going to school just so you can see the object of your affection, the heady adrenaline of sitting by them in science class, the awesome way you manage to convince yourself that they’re the most good-looking and mysterious boy you ever saw before in your life. It’s a golden time and, reading the story of Edward and Bella I was frequently laughing out loud as I remembered the awkwardness of my own teen years, and early twenties (but let’s pretend that I grew out of it by the time I hit my late twenties/early thirties…). Yes, I enjoyed that first book heartily and, upon finishing it, packed it away on my bookshelf and never thought of it again; at least not until many months later when I happened upon the sequel. I took that home too and read it over the course of a weekend, but alas, I didn’t enjoy it or any of the subsequent installments half as much as that first one. Don’t even get me started on the final books with the half-breed vampire baby with that ridiculous name. Now would probably be a good time to clarify why I read the series all the way through to the end, despite not enjoying anything after book two, the answer is simple, once I commit to a thing, I see it through, no matter how painful it is or how weak the vampires become or how much I am bored to death by the whole ‘Team Edward/Team Jacob’ thing. (It was always Edward! Meyer wasn’t even close to setting up any kind of believable or competitive rivalry people and for goodness sake, commitment to Edward, even if it did border on psychotic and controlling, was about the only thing Bella ‘clumsy’ Swan had going for her.

Jacob
(In the friendzone from day 1. Meet Jacob Black. I have no issue with Jacob in this first instalment, he’s a a nice guy, it’s only later on when he hulks out and starts ‘imprinting’ on small children that he becomes an issue for me. A big issue).

Like so many other people that had read the books, I met the premier of the Twilight film with some glee. I remember getting tickets for the premier screening in Brisbane and going with one of my housemates to see it at the former Imax. It’s important to mention we were at the former Imax because any of you that are familiar with the Imax will be aware that the interior is set out differently to a regular theatre, in that the rows are just a continuing long line of chairs, curved around the semi-circle of the cinema, which means that if you’re unlucky enough to be centre row, you’re stuck in there and there will be no bathroom breaks for you, so take it easy on the jumbo Pepsi pre-mix. Anyway, we were packed in like sardines and it was one of those intense movie moments, where you realise you’re in a cinema with a bunch of people who, much like yourself, are kind of nervous about the fact that they’re all really too old to be at this film and yet, are still shamefully excited. As I sat there, watching the edited version of the Bella/Edward love story unfold I was curiously struck by the unsettling tone of it all. This was something I had not picked up us forcefully in the books. The scenes in which Edward is, effectively, stalking Bella took on a much more dangerous tone when they were playing out in techni-colour, while Bella’s complete surrender and neediness was enough to make me want to vomit in my mouth… and don’t even get me started up on the Emo-pop soundtrack that was just the right type of cool (I’d say it was annoying Hispter-chic but 2008 was pre-Hipster elite)…I’ve never been a fan of Hardwicke or her directorial skills, so there was a lot about the movie that seemed more like a poorly edited music video than a serious film. Still, there were parts that were hard to watch because they so clearly captured the absolute uncertainty of being in love for the first time. The intimate interactions (such as they are) between the leads for example, were not only hard to watch but managed to raise a nervous giggle from so many members of the audience that were feeling as if they were watching something they ought not to be, something too personal, perhaps something taken from a chapter of their own anxiety ridden youth. So, snaps to Hardwicke for that aspect of the film. Otherwise, it left me cold and, to my mind, had none of the appeal of that first novel.

Still, I had enough friends by that time, that were keen to revisit the glory days when love was new and life was full of possibility, so I got dragged back to the cinema several times and eventually I managed to push the things that were ringing alarm bells out of my mind and convince myself that the film was okay. Which brings us almost up to the present.

When I inherited a copy quite recently on DVD from my sister, I put it up on my shelf to keep for a rainy day when I felt like a little supernatural romance to get me through a dull Sunday afternoon. That weekend finally came this weekend just gone. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was a stirring for enchiladas, maybe it was pure exhaustion driving the need to not think about anything too serious. In any case, I got Twilight out and gave it a spin.

Time, it seems, has not done this film any favours.

Twilight

(In my memory, this scene was pretty cute and I recall having intense cardigan envy. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the film through to its conclusion though. Probably for the best, some things are better left as memories.)

It seems that all of the fond memories I had been storing about this movie couldn’t live up to the actuality of it, let alone compete against the bitter cynicism I must have fostered between the ages of 25 and now. Although there were a couple of moments that I still quite enjoyed, overall the acting and the dialogue just wore me down and I ended up switching it off before the fated baseball game, during which Bella is discovered, targeted and hunted by the trio of out of town vampires that have been hanging around on the periphery of town and the plot line since the opening of the film.

Also apparent to me on this latest watching, was just how scarily unhealthy the relationship between Edward and Bella actually is. Yes, I know people have been pointing it out since minute one. Yes, I have seen some of the memes about it. And yes, I kind of always felt a bit uncomfortable with her utter breakdown in his absence, not to mention her almost instant reliance upon him; but in fairness I don’t know that the whole breakdown thing really gets a run until the sequels. Still, it wasn’t until this last watch that I was really taken aback by it all, so much so that I though to myself ‘whoa there, this is wrong.’ Bella, I’m not even a feminist, but you’re killing the spirit of the independent woman, girlfriend. How the fuck aren’t you getting creeped out when this dude (nice looking as he is) be shadowing you all over Port Angeles? That shit’s just wrong. I kind of have to wonder how many passive aggressive/ domestically violent young relationships have been born out of this kind of film, which makes possessive behaviour look like love. It makes me very sad.

Anyway, I didn’t make it to the end – which hardly ever happens because, as I say, I like to see a thing through – but this really annoyed me to no end. Thus, I don’t think I’ll be getting Twilight off the bookcase again in the near future. Robert Pattinson, if you ever put out an album, I will probably buy it because you have a pretty good voice, but your acting needs some work. Kristen Stewart… nothing for you, or your sulking, or your munted face. If I never see you again, it’s going to be too soon.

Re-watching this movie made me feel like an old part of me had finally died. That made me very sad too. I continue to wonder how the hell these films ever got so many sequels and I wonder what has been lost between the books and the film adaptations. I don’t think that Twilight is all bad, but I also don’t think it’s the sort of thing we should be promoting to teen audiences, especially not under the guise of it being a love story – because it isn’t. If anything, Twilight slots into the vampire genre for the unhealthy obsession between the leads. Unlike classics of the genre though, that obsession which would have been enriched for adult audiences if it had focused on sex and blood lust, was watered down and ruined by the flowery carry on of angst ridden Emo slop.

In the immortal words of Cher: If I could turn back time… I would have left this one on the shelf and living in my memory.

Sidebar: Unlike the books, I only managed the first three films before I gave up in disgust. Actually, it might have only been the first two and a half, I think I fell asleep in the cinema during the third instalment, they all kind of blend together though.

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