I want to talk a bit more about Twilight, and why I feel weird about. Twilight is, no matter how you look at it, a pretty terrible movie that turns vampires into unicorns, but it still, at least for me, captures something pretty real about teen girlhood. Which is probably why it’s so popular with teen girls and the women who used to be them.
When the LRB covers pop-cult stuff, they usually get it really wrong, but Jenny Turner’s piece on Twilight is pretty great:
In accordance with the adage about the rubbishy book making for the better movie, Twilight the film is great. The mise en scène luxuriates in the dinosaur-age greenery of the temperate rainforest, the ugly rainwear from Wal-Mart dampness of school and diner and Main Street, day after day after day. Eighteen-year-old Kristen Stewart, Adjani-pale and massy-haired, somehow makes perfect sense of Bella: she has a particularly fine way of squirming around in her skinny trousers, and perhaps got her chin-out speaking style from Jodie Foster, with whom she co-starred a few years ago as the diabetic daughter in Panic Room. And all the girls are squealing at Robert Pattinson – the noble Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films – as Edward: hair quiffed, face powder a shade or two too light, modelled, I thought, on Prince William on a night out at Boujis, laughing fondly down at Kate Middleton when she can’t help herself being middle-class. There’s a little bit of martial-arts-type leaping, some tiny vampire flashbacks done, wittily, like Nosferatu, but that apart, the film is gloriously lucid, without flicker or gloss or shadow. I went to a West End matinée on a Saturday, with girls on their eighth and eleventh viewings, and a few women closer to my age with bags from Debenhams and Primark. It was the first time I’d been to the cinema for ages and I bounced out full of beans.
Then afterwards I found myself feeling wretched, in a way I really haven’t for years and years and years. Why can’t I be freed of the need for food and sleep, why can’t I squirm exquisitely in skinny trousers, why can’t I be for ever beautiful and young? Awful memories were dislodged, of being young and full of longing – a really horrible feeling, a sickening excess of emotion with nowhere, quite, to put it. ‘I wish I could be a vampire,’ I actually said out loud at one point, though once I’d said it, I knew even that didn’t get to the heart of the problem. But the internet is great for discharging all this discontent and discomfort. I watched trailers and out-takes, I browsed on Twilight Moms, I read the interview with ‘Stephenie’ in the latest issue of American Vogue – she is ‘obsessed with the Greek salad’ in her local deli. I read somewhere some interviews with Kristen Stewart, who finds the Twilight craze ‘psychotic’.
For me, it went deeper than longing; watching Bella figure out to deal with her relatinoship with Edward, the vampire who’s constantly trying to “control” himself around her — I related to that, related to it like crazy. Now, watching it I may have been thinking about how the author is Mormon and that her Mormonism influenced the story in a lot of ways, but I feel like it most likely would have been potent for me anyway, in part because when I was Bella’s age, I dated a Mormon dude. I want to be careful writing about this because it was a private relationship that we had a long time ago — but suffice it to say that chastity was a big concern for him. This was okay with me, because I wasn’t really to go any further than we did, and I really cared for him a lot and wouldn’t really want him to do something he was ashamed of. But at the same time, I was a teen girl with hormones and feelings, and obviously I…wanted more. Don’t get me wrong, my high school boyfriend was nothing like Edward — he didn’t watch me sleep, and he was fun and interesting to be around.
Twilight is basically about that feeling — about wanting something you feel you shouldn’t want, about wanting someone to give into desires they really don’t want to, about how when you fall in love at 18 it basically seems like the most important thing in the world — and it does it really well. When Edward tells Bella how “dangerous” he is (main danger skill: overacting), she still pushes toward him. “I’m not afraid of you,” she says, kind of hoping he’ll “lose control” but mostly knowing he won’t.
When he appears (totally creepily) in her bedroom window one night, he tells her not to move. “I just want to try something.” They start kissing, and as soon as he’s opened the door, she goes for it — until he pushes her away. “I’m stronger than I thought I was,” he says. “I wish I could say the same,” she gasps back. I don’t know what the consensus is on Kristen Stewart’s performance, but I think she really takes the Bella on the page and gives her all the desire without really understanding what you’re desiring — the sense that there is something sublime if you could just cross over this one line (which for her is represented by these flashes of Edward biting her neck, which doesn’t really even seem to sublimate the sex thing all that much), but… you just can’t.
It’s sort of awful, because it’s so confusing and guilt-ridden, but at the same time there’s a kind of romance to it, a kind of bigness and stakes that nothing else will ever really have.
Oh, I don’t miss being a teenager at all.