Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves

Dec/11

19

Movie Review: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

Published in The Marshall Independent TV Guide

I really didn’t want to like this movie, so it was with some trepidation that I decided to review it, with visions of mobs of angry teenage girls besieging the Independent’s office with torches and pitchforks dancing in my head.

Plus I have met and liked one of the actors (Dimitri the vampire) and it’s kind of touchy critiquing the work of someone you know, however slightly.

But I was trained as an anthropologist with a strong background in folklore studies since childhood. This recent trend in reworking the vampire legends offends me professionally.

Let’s get this straight, a vampire is not Anne Rice’s “dark, Byronic figure.” A vampire is a corpse risen from the dead. In some legends reanimated by a demon. They could be victims of other vampires, atheists, illegitimate children, or other outcasts and undesirables come back from the dead to exact a geek’s revenge on society.

And they have bad breath.

Admittedly there have been some pretty good modern reworkings the vampire theme, discarding much or most of the supernatural elements of the legends. One is vampirism-is-a-disease, inspired by theories that vampire legends may have drawn on observations of victims suffering from pernicious anemia, porphyria, or rabies. The “Blade” series is an example.

Another is that vampires are another species that prey on humans from their position one link higher on the food chain. Good examples of this are “The Vampire Tapestry” by Suzy McGee Charnas, and “Fevre Dream” by George R.R. Martin.

The “Twilight” series falls into the vampirism-as-a-communicable-disease camp. If you can call an infection that makes you stronger, faster, and gives you psychic powers and everlasting youth a disease. There is that overwhelming desire for human blood thing, but evidently that can be controlled by strong self-discipline and animal blood, according to author Stephanie Meyers.

There is so much about this movie that grates. To begin with it drags, if you’re not in the mood to watch beautiful scenery (Oregon and Rio) while waiting for the action to start. And for those of us who have actually been present for a partner’s pregnancy and delivery, it makes one kind of queasy as Bella’s life-threatening pregnancy advances, and definitely gross when she drinks human blood and delivers by Caesarian section performed by amateurs.

And oddly, since Robert Pattinson (Edward) and Kristen Stewart (Bella) are reportedly a real-life couple, there is something missing from their on-screen romance. Edward is 80-odd years older than Bella but we don’t see a hint of the tensions, misunderstandings, and sweet poignancy couples with a marked age difference experience. It is mentioned Edward struggles between his love for Bella and his desire to murder her for the blood in her veins, but again it doesn’t show in their performances much.

(Russian-English actor George Sanders once remarked, “It is impossible to be in love with a woman without experiencing upon occasion, a desire to strangle her.” I suspect women feel a different urge than strangulation, and am quite certain it’s more than occasionally.)

But all that said, I have to say the popularity of the Twilight series among young people fascinates me.

I think all thoughtful people must realize this is a bad time for lovers in our society. We are conflicted about what the nature of real manliness is, somewhere between the extremes of wimpiness and brutality.

What I see here are young, and not so young, girls longing for manly strength, gallantry, and lustiness tempered by honor and discipline. A man who could tear apart anyone who threatens them, but who wouldn’t willingly harm a hair on their head. A man who is stirred by their femininity but can keep his hands to himself. A man in whose arms they’d feel safe jumping off a high cliff into a tropical pool.

Teenage Bella is courted by not one, but two such men. Bitter rivals who it appears will become fast friends. And it is strongly hinted, the rejected suitor will become the hero her newborn daughter will need in a dangerous world.

I see the wish-fulfillment fantasy of every girl becoming a woman, in a society unsure of what a man should be. And I wonder what it means that this is presented as a fantasy.

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