Thursday, July 1, 2010

Monstrous Musings: A Review of Eclipse

"Natalie Wilson is literature and women’s studies scholar and author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. She is currently writing a book examining the Twilight cultural phenomenon from a feminist perspective, forthcoming from McFarland in 2010. Her interest in vampires and werewolves dates back to her childhood fascination with all types of monsters."'

I saw Eclipse last night, in IMAX, with a “Twi-virgin” – a woman who has not read the books, seen either of the first two movies, or been caught up in any way in Twi-mania. Yes, they exist!

Having been immersed in the series for the purposes of my forthcoming book, Seduced by Twilight, a feminist analysis of the phenomenon, it was nice to see Eclipse through a newborn’s eyes, so to speak. She liked many of the things I enjoyed most about the film – the well-done back-stories of Jasper and Rosalie, the wolf/vampire drama and action, the fleshing out of Victoria, Riley, and the newborns, Jane’s icy red-eyed villainy, the creation of a visually stunning world that FINALLY didn’t make Edward look like a sickly corpse with too much red lipstick.

Then came a part where she physically cringed. I thought she was going to throw up. It was the “oh marry me Bella. I am old-fashioned and want to sip lemonade on a porch with you. Marry me, marry me, marry me” scene that had my feminist-self internally writhing in dismay.

It’s not that I am anti-marriage nor that I don’t get Edward is supposed to be from “another era” (one that I might add was not near as gentlemanly as nostalgic mythmakers like us to believe). Instead, it’s a whole combination of things – their age, the “sex will kill you” vibe, the eroticizing of abstinence, the suggestion that sex for the sake of sex rather than within a marriage for purposes of reproduction is a modern disease “gentleman” like Edward can cure us from. And, of course, the awareness that the author’s religion FERVENTLY supports marriage only for some and that she tithes a percentage of her profits to an institution that names same-sex love as aberrant and sinful – as a disease to be cured. I SO wanted Bella to go all Brangelina and be like “we can’t get married until everyone has the right to get married, Edward.” Yeah, not gonna happen.

Despite way too damn many of these “marry me” talks (which admittedly come straight out of the books and which the film-makers did their best to make palatable to a 21st century audience via the injection of humor and a quasi-feminist sensibility on Bella’s part), the film is the best in the series so far – it’s visually stunning, the Cullens for once look like the breathtakingly gorgeous vamps they are supposed to be, and the Twi-universe is more fully realized and complex via getting us further out of Bella’s damn head and allowing us into the minds of wolves, Volturis, newborns, and other humans. Plus, Charlie is better than ever in this one and his scenes with Bella constitute something rarely seen in films – a believable, sympathetic portrayal of a father’s love for his almost-adult teen daughter. Yes, the scene where Bella assures Charlie she is a virgin still irks me on ideological grounds, but the film-makers deserve credit for making this scene as realistically awkward as possible.

However, the pacing is way, way too slow. Some of the dialogue sounds like it’s in slow motion, the characters talking with such long pauses in between words that they seem to have the slow-wittedness of young alcoholics or the can’t quite think communication style of sleep-deprived drug addicts. I would wager they could have cut 30 minutes if Bella and all had only talked at a semi-normal pace…

Second to the annoying (white) women-are-pure-vessels-to-be-protected meme that comes straight out of the books is the continued racialized animalization of the Quileute. Yes, they are wolves and thus this animalization makes sense, but the ways in which this aspect of the saga promotes tired stereotypical representations of indigenous peoples is still beyond irksome. This dehumanization of non-white characters isn’t helped at all by Taylor Lautner’s rather wooden portrayal of Jacob. Though Edward is supposed to be the immovable statue boy, it is Jacob that comes off as a stiff and inexpressive – kind of like one of the hulking “injuns” from Disney’s Peter Pan. Though he doesn’t’ say “ugga-wug-a-wug-wug,” he has this stilted “I am not quite civilized” demeanor which is furthered by his perpetual shirtlessness and no-neck abnormally-pumped 17-year-old body. More objectified eye candy than hot molten wolf-boy, Jacob’s pursuit of Bella comes off as hubristic and thug-like. Here, the movies don’t capture what the books at least nod too – that Jacob is, in many ways, the better man – the better choice – and that he genuinely believes Bella’s relationship with Edward is putting her life at risk. Instead, the film represents him as hot for her in a teen-angsty way – and annoyingly convinced that she is hot for his “hotter than Edward” body.
The other wolves are also a let down – in human form, they are shirtless and munch on chicken bones. When their ancestors are portrayed, there is the definite savage feel – as if the “oldtimers” were just as uncivilized as the cold vampires they encounter.  They are unfortunately non-individuated (keeping true to the book) – a factor that is of course also true of most colonial texts written by white authors. True to the way Hollywood (and literature) has long played Native Americans, their best feature is their nobility. Ah, the noble savage, how original.

That being said, Gil Birmingham’s anguish as he hears Jacob’s tortured cries is one of the most emotionally palpable moments in the film. And, Lautner does have some wonderfully comic moments where he pulls off some of the cheesier lines with style. The film also manages to make the whole imprinting story-line less vomit-inducing than it is in the texts. However, the scene where a massively injured Jacob lies in bed, telling Bella he will always be waiting for her, even after her heart stops beating, smacked way too much of “a brown man’s destiny is to suffer to save the white woman her tears.”

Overall, I have to give props to the film-makers feminist-izing of the film – it foregrounds female characters more so than the books, even having Bella suggest a hyphenated name after marriage. I also give them props for expanding a Twilight universe and immersing us in this vampire/wolf world that is not ONLY about the tired love triangle at the book’s core. Of course, this is exactly what some fans like LEAST. For example, one commenter at Twilight Lexicon bemoans:
    “Bella is just not the way she has made her out to be and it makes me sad that she can’t come to terms with the fact that it’s a story about a character and her (Melissa Rosenberg’s) beliefs on religion, love, girl power, etc don’t matter” 
Oh, yes, how HORRIBLE Rosenberg give Bella a bit of “girl-power.” How dare she suggest women have more to do than pine over men and make em some babies!
And, on that note, how dare anyone suggest that people might want to ANALYZE the allure of Twilight. In a post at the Lexicon, Twilight-News writes
    “Let’s face it. We all know that the critics don’t get Twilight. They think we are all 13, or we are middle-aged and run around in sparkly glitter all day long. But at the end of the day, we like what we like. We know who we are. We don’t need to defend it to every insipid critic who just doesn’t get that it’s our brand of heroin and we weren’t looking for or mistaking it for War and Peace. It’s just something we like, PERIOD.”
While I appreciate the humor of this post, and the acknowledgment of critics gendered disdain for Twi-fans, I disagree with the “It’s just something we like” stance – rings too much of the “it’s just entertainment” mantra that excuses sexism, racism, homophobia and other heinous things in our media as if they don’t shape how we view and act in the world. When what we like promotes some archaic notions about gender, race, and sexuality I very much think we need to defend, analyze, and critique – as I argued earlier this week here. I liked Eclipse, but I am not going to pretend that Twi-mania is harmless – like heroin (a metaphor so many Twilighters use for their addiction), it may make us feel good, but it ain’t necessarily good for us…