Eclipse, And The Twilight of Sexual Progress

06/30/2010 12:01 PM |

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Hey, it’s Blockbluster, our seasonal feature in which Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart leave their modernist vampire house in rural Washington to find out during which sort of movies regular people all over the country are not making out. This week, David Slade’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse leaves them thinking dark thoughts.

Ben, if I hadn’t had to check my phone at the door, I’d have been texting you all through Eclipse. Mostly, “OMG!” Because, wow, there were a lot of OMG! moments in there, no? If I had to guess, I’d say Stephanie Meyer wasn’t a day over 14 when she wrote this installment in her quite profitable tetrology (soon to be a cinematic pentology). And even that’s a little generous. This movie doesn’t just feel like it’s for tweens, Ben—it feels like it’s by tweens!

Seriously, Twilight is some bizarre, little girl princess-fantasy, and might be the most sexually regressive shit mainstream America has seen since, I don’t know, before passage of the 19th Amendment? You can picture a bunch of little (white) girls sitting around in a circle, outlining the story: “ok, so there’s like two totally hot guys, and they’re both totally in love with Bella—OMG her name means ‘pretty’!—and one’s a vampire but he doesn’t bite and sunlight just makes him cute and sparkly! It just means he’s like really old-fashioned and into like marriage and stuff. Like, even if Bella wanted to have sex—ewww!—he’d be like totally ‘no way first let’s get married.’ He could say something like, ‘it’s not my virtue I’m worried about.’ Oh and oh and when he proposes, the ring is huge! With, like, a firmament of diamonds.”

“Oh, and the other one’s a werewolf cos he’s an Indian and they’re magical. And none of the dozen or so Indian boys can wear shirts!”

“Oh, and they’re both like insanely jealous and overprotective and always stalking her and being like, ‘where’d you get that bracelet?’ or like ‘ew you’re gonna marry him?’ Oh and then when the wolf finds out that Bella’s gonna marry the vampire he could be so upset and be all like, ‘oh man I’m so upset I’m totally gonna go kill myself’ and Bella could be all like, ‘aw, no, don’t, kiss me, I love you.’”

Can’t you just hear the squeals? (Or not? Sorry I got a little carried away there, Ben.) Anyway, my girlfriend pointed out after the screening that “Bella’s humanity”—that is, her frailty—“is an allegory for her femininity”. Which makes sense, as her only power is her sexuality: getting boys to like her and then getting them to keep her safe.

The most disturbing part of all this is Twilight’s significant popularity among olds. Is American so totally stripped of feeling that its urban and heartland housewives alike are left desperately craving some kind of hysterical yet virginal intensity of emotion? Like, wouldn’t it be wonderful just to kiss forever (no tongues) in wildflower revelry? To stare at each other meaningfully, to the point that it makes the people around you uncomfortable? Remember when one of the film’s female characters actually said: “my life was perfect, except I didn’t have a husband, or a family”? (Well, that’s a loose quote.) And this is what middle-aged women want to teach their pre-teen daughters? Horrible, Ben. Utterly fucking horrible.

Henry, I hate going second when we discuss movies like this, because the contrarian in me invariably feels obliged to find some sort of reading that might make the film seem less horrible than you’ve made it out to be. What would that look like for Eclipse? Well, I can’t really argue that, like that other eastern Washington-set saga of rural American mysticism, Twin Peaks, Eclipse takes a gently mocking but no less heartfelt look at Main Street U.S.A. Instead, Forks is an un-ironic, over-earnest and embattled safe haven from a ruined culture, and the greatest threat to its citizens’ well-being comes not from the violent mental instability of like half its population, but from the big bad City. A horde of symbolically crack-addicted, raping and pillaging newborn vampires is gathering in Seattle, circa 1989. The parents of Forks are basically like the suburban moms and dads who recoiled twenty years ago when their kids started listening to Nirvana. Our SUV-driving do-gooders, clearly, are the last line of defense against the corrupting influence of the gutted American city. Hey, it really is 1989! So that’s no good.

And what of Forks, this bizarre, Buffy-ian town split three or four ways between humans, werewolves, vampires and people who just don’t fit in, like Bella? It’s a lot like a fantasy throwback to a Western frontier narrative, where a posse of marble-white middle-class men and women operate outside the law to tame, civilize and assimilate the impulsive, working-class Native American werewolves. Whitey shows wolfy the wonders of Western medicine, suggests he wear shirts more often and offers a master class on proper courtship rituals. Even those hilarious Goth kids, the Volturi, fit into this postcolonial reading as the far-off colonizing power imposing its out-of-place rules on the embattled frontier settlements. All this, Henry, is pretty repulsive, and dovetails rather devastatingly with the neo-Victorian “lady in distress” sexual politics you highlighted. In one of Eclipse’s funnier moments (and there were quite a few intended laughs that worked), Bella proclaims her neutrality between feuding Edward and Jake: “From now on, I’m Switzerland!” Really, though, she’s more like an unclaimed territory held hostage and given a putative choice between conquerors. Bella is a willing participant if not quite an active agent in her own imprisonment, and that’s completely appalling. If only her English teacher had assigned Emily Dickinson rather than Robert Frost. Hey, there’s one thing Forks has in common with its urban id: shitty public schools.

So, Henry, what the fuck good can we say about Eclipse? Well, part of me has always been suspicious of the abstinence allegory, although it gets so explicitly spelled out in this installment that my disbelief now seems all but untenable. What the hell though, here goes. Twilight’s put on sexual prudishness seems so out of step with contemporary cinema that, watching all the heavy petting, dry-humping and deep kissing (there was total tongue there, Henry, I don’t know what you’re talking about) I was reminded of Hollywood’s production code-era lexicon of sexual symbolism: ie. a character dancing alone may have been masturbating, a reclining kiss was code for coitus, and so on. Now this movie seems like one long orgy, right? Well, except there’s that scene you mentioned in which Bella practically molests Edward and he remains completely frigid, demanding marriage before they can make it. Still, I think Eclipse offers its viewers some very tangible kind of sexual pleasure from the perpetually delayed gratification of its love triangle, not unlike the way a soap opera keeps viewers hooked by never quite giving it all away (just like Edward!). And that endlessly deferred fulfillment of desire is the closest I came to finding something redeeming in Eclipse. Now if you’ll excuse me, Henry, I need to go on a cleansing Buffy binge.

4 Comment

  • Hey Ben, you mention the movie’s “love triangle” so let’s talk about it; WHAT love triangle!? Granted, I missed the second installment in this series, but when Jacob (the werewolf, for the rest of you) kept saying “Bella loves me, she just doesn’t know it” it sounded to me like some seriously creepy obsessed-boy shit; by the time Bella finally acknowledges he’s kinda right–to which I was all like “really!?”, but I’m a Team Edward guy–she refutes him in nearly the same breath with a “but I love Edward more”. But I guess delayed reveals have always been Twilight’s problem:…

    Also, I’m glad you speak more to the race-components of the werewolves, since there was an allegory in there as blatant as the one in the old X-Men Saturday morning cartoon. (Which made itself apparent to me even as a totally politically unconscious child, perhaps my first stirrings of “subtext”.)

    Finally, the first thing I did after work yesterday–after writing my half of this post, a day after the screening–was watch an episode of Buffy, which, though I didn’t realize it but now that you mention it, seems like a totally obvious cleansing-thing!!

  • I feel pretty disgusting getting so engaged in something so… not worth engaging, but Jacob is way better for her, and she’ll eventually see that. (When will you, Henry?!)

    As for X-Men: absolutely. I had something in my notes about Victoria, the rogue vampire assembling her posse of pissed off newborns, being just like Jean Grey/Phoenix in X-Men 3, gathering a mutant army bent on revenge. I was hoping to make more of the war themes–the partnership between military and tribal clans to defeat a common insurgent foe–but that whole showdown wound up being so secondary to the meatier melodramatic action that there wasn’t much there to address.

    Finally, I think delayed reveals are Twilight’s greatest strength, or, more accurately, its greatest lure to keep readers and viewers who aren’t necessarily obsessed with the show returning despite themselves. It’s like how HBO shows (starting, let’s say, with The Sopranos and Six Feet Under) have adopted the soap opera approach to narrative, focusing more on introducing new plot lines than on resolving existing ones, always adding more variables and uncertainties to the mix. Annoying as it might be at times (see the never-ending Jacob v. Edward business), I think this is one of the things Twilight does particularly well.

  • Edward is the dude girls want to bone in highschool and college. Jacob is the dude they marry 10 years later. The eternal struggle.

  • @mike: You’re crazy! Jacob spends the whole movie being shirtless, sensitive and romantic; he’s the perfect partner for any occasion. Plus, you know, not clinically deceased.