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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser

(Summit Entertainment; US theatrical: 18 Nov 2011 (General release); UK theatrical: 10 Aug 2011 (General release); 2011)

Morte!

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 is all about sex. For all the longing and sighing and putting off that has made up the first three movies in the franchise, this one focuses on the consummation. And then, the consequences.


Much as she has been wont to do in the past, Bella (Kristen Stewart) opens the new film with a little rhapsodizing, that is, a startlingly superficial assessment of her future. “Childhood is not from birth to a certain age,” she says, “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”


On its face, this snatch of poetry alludes (again) to the vampire business, for Bella is now marrying Edward (Robert Pattinson). While neither says it outright, they both seem to be imagining an immediate future where she remains human, and maybe, sorta, perhaps, a future future where she becomes a vampire, so they can cherish each other forever. As everyone knows, Edward has cautioned his beloved repeatedly that being a vampire is actually not so much fun. But, she assures him during a pre-wedding day visit in her bedroom, she believes she can “do it,” because he’s done it. Bella insists that she in his “eyes,” those glittering soulless vampire eyes, a mirror version of herself, someone who is, as she puts it, “capable of courage and sacrifice.”


And with that, Edward grins and galumphs out Bella’s second-story window to join his fellow boy vampires for a bachelor party.


That she’s left behind in her window, gazing down on her childish 108-year-old paramour, is pretty much par for this course. Bella is the girl, which means she waits around, but she’s also the desired girl, which means she gets to make some nominal decisions. This process of making decisions has for some (lengthy) time appeared to be about sex—whether to have it at all, and whether to have it with swoony Edward or the more patently virile Jake (Taylor Lautner). Again and again, she and the boys gaze at one another—as couples and three-ways—resenting and wanting, mad and giddy.


As Bella has put off her choice, the three movies thus far have done a couple of things: prolonged the agony, with repetitive plots (wolves and vampires fight, vampires fight each other, wolves fight each other, and oh yes, most humans serve as annoyances even as Bella remains the big prize) milked a sort-of brilliant tension. Not only might viewers feel her visible pain and intently earnest desire, but they can also be aware—usually to comic effects—of the extremity and awkwardness and general fun of that pain and desire. And so, when Jake receives his invite to Bella and Edward’s nuptials and strips off his shirt to run into the woods and transition into his wolf self, the audience can both feel his agony and laugh at their own delight in his shirt-stripping. Viewers get the joke and yay for them.


Such moments make the Twilights go. Sex in these moments is broadly conceived, playful and a little clever, metaphorical and very symbolic. The marriage, of course, changes this template, as Bella and Edward indeed, finally, have sex. (This after a wedding-planning segment, overseen primarily by the seer Alice [Ashley Green], as well as a long look at the wedding itself [the white dress, the nightmare version that turns bloody, and the flowers everywhere], a goofy toast montage, and of course, Bella’s extended goodbyes to her mom [Sarah Clarke] and especially her dad Charlie [Billy Burke, still and always the most entertaining performer on screen].) And yes, that sex is momentous.


The foreboding begins early, as Edward and Bella head off to Brazil for their honeymoon: walking Rio’s streets during carnivale (conveniently timed for their arrival), Bella leans against her husband’s arm, they kiss, and she looks fragile and a little less dour than usual. When they get to their bedroom—on a sensational beach, courtesy of Carlisle (Peter Facinelli)—she worries about what to do. She brushes her teeth, peers into the mirror, shaves her legs, can’t find the right bathing suit for a moonlit dip. And so, after all the drama and they find themselves naked in each other’s arms. The first night is apparently awesome, indicated by her near-smile in the morning, a broken bedframe, and also by bruises on Bella’s arms. 


And so they must contend with effects. Those bruises, it turns out, are signs of a greater imposition on Bella’s body, namely, her pregnancy. At first, everyone is surprised that she could be pregnant after just two weeks of having sex. (“Everyone” here includes Edward and Bella and the Cullens and Jake, because they all hear about it forthwith.) And then everyone contends with the scary “thing” (Edward’s term) inside her. A local “housekeeper” (Carolina Virguez) helps with his diagnosis when she plays the Maria Ouspenskaya part, proclaiming Edward a demon and Bella’s instantly protruding belly “Morte!” At this point the tension between Bella and Edward shifts—it’s not only that he’s denying her sex (which he is, because he’s discovered that it does indeed, “hurt” her, it’s also that he wants to “get rid of” the “thing.”


Bella and Edward’s return to the Cullen home produces lots more embodied problems, or maybe, problems of embodiment. These are, of course, Bella’s. She grows gaunt as the baby consumes her from the inside, she insists on keeping it, she wants to stay human so the baby can stay human, and she wants Jake around. All her demands are almost enough to make you feel sorry for Edward, though he remains so irksomely selfish that you probably won’t. Jake—that canine boy who’s usually as short-sighted as his romantic object and her object—gets to say, essentially, “I told you so,” but that doesn’t make anyone feel any better, him least of all.


But as the boys keep curling their lips and resenting one another, Bella bears the brunt of the sex she has and also, the rules she obeys. Sex is a big deal, perhaps especially when you’re 18. BUt it’s hard to see why she must pay so horribly, with the starving and the collapsing, the fragility and the utter irrationality. She wants to save her baby, but it will kill her. She wants to stay human, but must, in the end, be carved up and consumed ferociously by her husband (the bloody birth-death scene is fairly appalling, in a PG-13-boundary-pushing way). What is Bella thinking? She seems to have no sense of consequences, even as she lives them. If only she got out more, maybe watched an episode or two of Teen Mom. As it is, Bella makes her way toward “the kingdom where nobody dies” by being rather ingeniously resilient, completely predictable and frustrating, punished and punishing. She’s 18, again and still.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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