Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Tedium of 'Twilight: Eclipse' (2010)

I made a mistake a couple of weeks back of buying a friend the DVD of 'Twilight: Eclipse' (2010).  She had enjoyed the previous two movies and watched them more than once on DVD.  As the gift-giver, on the day of her birthday I was invited to come and watch the movie, which I had not seen, with her.  I like contemporary vampire movies and have seen 'Blade' (1998) and 'Underworld' (2003) on numerous occasions.  I had reasonably enjoyed the first two instalments of the 'Twilight' movie series: 'Twilight' (2008) and 'Twilight: New Moon' (2009).  I found the setting in the North-West of the USA a suitable one, and the tension between the werewolves and vampires seemed interesting.  Of course, the sexual/relationship tension of the late-teenaged heroine Bella choosing cerebral vampire Edward but still feeling affection for more muscular werewolf Jacob was sufficiently engaging.  Both of these earlier movies tempered the teenage romance angst with genuine action first against renegade vampires and then interacting with the Volturi, a powerful organisation of vampires based in Italy.  Interestingly, Martin Sheen who plays a werewolf fighting vampires in 'Underworld' and 'Underworld: Rise of the Lycans' (2008) appears as an elder vampire in 'Twilight: New Moon' of the same year.

Having seen 'Twilight: Eclipse' billed as 'the best Twilight movie yet', I had high hopes that it would build on the strengths of the previous two movies and provide new step.  However, I give nothing away if I reveal that it adds nothing to what had been explored in the previous movies of the series.  I know that the novels by Stephenie Meyer (published 2005-8) stretch the story of the romance between Bella and Edward over four novels, but that is probably far too long for a movie.  In 'Twilight: Eclipse' all you have is continuing prevarication from Bella about turning into a vampire and ire from Jacob who believes she should be with him rather than with Edward.  The tension between Jacob and Edward and Bella wanting to remain with Edward and yet not wanting to harm Jacob's feelings simply rehashes what happened in 'Twilight: New Moon'.  The main opponent Victoria, who appeared in 'Twilight' assembles a powerful army of new vampires but this element is neglected in favour of repetitive sullen behaviour from the three main protagonists. 

References to other incidents such as the rise of a powerful vampire army at the time of the American Civil War are skirted over.  I know Bella is the heroine, but with these apparently large threats to humanity and the vampire community going on, you would think she could lift her gaze from her own angst over fancying two young men, for even just a short time, to look at something else.  Sympathy for Bella is beginning to wear thin.  Even the woman I bought the DVD for, who is not a teenager, but certainly is very much a Jane Austen fan so into stretched out romance punctuated with minor 'crises', was tiring of it all by the end of the movie which runs for 2 hours 4 minutes meaning you see far too much of drippy teenagers moping around a rainy landscape.  There was enough of this in the second movie; cutting this one to 93 minutes would have improved it immensely and restored much of the tension felt in the first movie.

I know Meyer is a devout Mormon who is married and has three children; her husband who she married when they were both 21, has given up work to look after the children since his wife's career took off.  Meyer wrote the novels at a time when George W. Bush was in power and not only advocating abstinence as the only form of contraception for unmarried couples, but also pouring federal funds into the teaching of this approach in schools.  Unsurprisingly teenage pregnancies are the highest in the USA of all industrial states.  I can only find figures for 1996 when the rate was 55.6 births per 1000 women under the age of 20 compared to 29.6 in the UK, 13 in Germany, 9.4 in France and 6.6 in Italy.  In the USA 80% of teenage pregnancies were unintended and of these 50% were from women not using contraceptives.  I have no problem with people having religious messages in their movies.  I have watched many of the movies of Christ's life and others with explicit or implicit religious themes from 'The Nun's Story' (1959) to 'Minority Report' (2002).  However, perhaps it was because I found 'Twilight: Eclipse' so dull that these elements jarred most strongly with me when watching it. 

I accept that Edward Cullen is supposed to be 104 years old and brought up during the Victorian period, or in fact an idealised version of the Victorian period.  As Ian Hislop's very engaging series 'The Age of the Do-Gooders' currently running on UK television has demonstrated, one reason why so many Victorians had to be active in combating vice was because so much of it was happening.  Cullen reflects a 20th century view of the Victorian era rather than the context in which Sherlock Holmes was operating, which though fictional, shows us a great deal of Victorian society.  Consequently, when Bella proposes to have sex with Edward he refuses insisting they would only do it after they were married.  He proposes to the 18-year old Bella, who rightly, even in the movie, feels she is rather being blackmailed into it.  Edward wants to turn her into a vampire before they are married and only have sex after they are.  I know the USA has movements like the Silver Ring Thing which gets young people to make a commitment to abstinence until married, but even their website claims only 465,000 people have attended their events and 161,400 have made the commitment.  This is compared to around 74 million people under the age of 18 living in the USA.  The other thing is, Bella agrees to marry and even back in Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing' (1598) the priest marrying a couple acknowledges that they are likely to have already had sex.  This was at a time far more religious than our own. 

I would not be surprised if Bella would not be suspicious of Edward.  She has accepted that he is a vampire, but certainly in many stories, vampires are infertile and in some are unable to even have erections, being, in theory, 'dead'.  If the Bella and Edward are engaged, they need to discuss their future together and one thing they definitely do not talk about is sex and children.  Any couple needs to have such conversations before their relationship develops certainly to the stage of marriage.  However, in the movie reflecting the novels, this is indefinitely postponed.  In the fourth novel, Bella finally marries Edward and gets pregnant by him while still a human.  This, again, reflects Bushite views of sex; i.e. that a married woman's role is to produce children.  One minute before the marriage ceremony she must not have sex, one minute after she must be getting pregnant.  Viewers of the movie certainly can feel that Bella has been locked into a kind of production line, with no reference to her own pleasure, just simply to what is 'right'.  Free will, certainly from the woman's perspective seems to have gone out of the window.  This is ironic given Meyer's own history.  I accept that she was a young wife and mother, but now her husband is the main child-rearer and her wealth has allowed her choices in her own life she seems to deny her heroine.

The other thing that is missing is the fact that teenagers get incredibly aroused and a lot of sex just happens in the heat of the moment.  Letting your passions run away with you is frowned upon in the movie with reference both in 'Twilight: New Moon' and 'Twilight: Eclipse' to a werewolf who turned and injured his human partner, scarring her for life.  This is why Bella could never be with the werewolves as they are the analogy for unbridled human passion and the vampires, are, in fact there to represent humans in clinical control of their emotions and consequently lacking in passion and if not quite 'dead' then at least 'cold fish'.  I know this is a movie series which features fantastical creatures, werewolves and vampires, but its credibility breaks down, when Bella begins to undress for sex and simply because Edward says, not overly forcefully, that they must wait until marriage, she stops and accepts it.  This suggests she feels no passion for Edward at all and the sex would have simply have been going through the emotions.  This presents a very artificial view of sex to the audience and seems to suggest that love and passion are divorced from each other, and, in fact, implies that true love is only true when passion is absent from it.  It is ironic to compare such an attitude with movies of an era people like Meyer might look back to.  Compare this to 'Casablanca' (1942) which with no explicit reference to sex, shows how loyalty, love and passion are all vital ingredients for relationships which can endure the harshest environments.  Whilst Ilsa goes off with Victor, Rick and Ilsa still have the passion of Paris to warm their lives.

Overall, not only does 'Twilight: Eclipse' provide nothing new for the series, it presents a very cold portrayal of love and relationships, not really driven by feelings, rather following very stringent regulations that fixes the woman into a lifestyle that has very little to do with her own happiness and is shaped purely by the men in her life.  It shows an unrealistic portrayal of the passion in an intimate relationship and the challenges there in handling that.  Meyer said she wanted to keep sex out of her novels, but in fact, by showing it in this distorted way, which does not reflect how real teenagers even in the past behaved, let alone today, distorts the expectations and behaviour of her core audience.  Many teenager will find it immensely harder to behave like Edward and Bella and simply switch off arousal because they have been told to do so.  That will damage relationships not only in the teenage years but beyond and the USA does not need any more damage to relationships than it already has.

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