In the lobby of the Arclight Theatres in Pasadena, California, there is a merch table containing—among other Twilight-themed curios—a set of “Cullen Crest Jelly Bangles.” Examining the piece of jewelry, it occurs to me that it’s someone’s job to dream up these tie-ins, and someone else’s job to go, “Yes! This is exactly what the world needs!” Worse still, somewhere in China, a worker is operating a Breaking Dawn-themed rubber press.
It’s 11:30 AM and I’m waiting for the first of the five movies in the Twilight Saga to begin—that’s a marathon lasting 13 hours, 780 minutes of sparkly, treacly tweensploitation dreck. I don’t think I’m above these films (I can see the benefit of cookies-on-the-lowest-shelf style pop culture), but I’ve never completely bought into the oddly benign “vampire boy meets girl, vampire boy marries girl, vampire/human couple makes a baby that pisses off vampire elders, and then everyone laughs about the misunderstanding,” mythology of Twilight. And that supernatural disco ball skin? Please—I can see sparkly men any day of the week in West Hollywood.
So I’m not sure what brought me to an all-day celebration of ennui-and-sex-ridden bloodsuckers other than the obvious morbid curiosity. It wasn’t like I was a total Twilight virgin: Thanks to an employment dry spell and a splash of cheap wine, I had worked my way the books, and I had giggled my way through the films during various girls’ nights. I even had a borderline Twi-Hard best friend who appeared at the screening wearing a “Team Edward” shirt.
But I wanted to see who the real nuts were, the people who would spend an entire day gorging on Edward, Bella, and Jacob’s sub-Dawson’s Creek love story. The theater was predominantly filled with women, of course (there were a lot of mother/daughter teams), and most of them were bona-fide Twilight scholars. Before each film, the theater ran a trivia competition, where obscure questions such as, “What year was Edward Cullen turned into a vampire and why?” elicited shouting matches. I was impressed—if my iPhone goes down I’m lucky if I can remember the details of my own life.
I made it through the day, and even enjoyed myself—a little. But Lord, these movies do not improve by being shown back-to-back. Below are my findings.
Within minutes, our hero Edward appears on screen. It’s a bit like porn in that the movie’s creators clearly know what the audience wants: close-up after close-up of Robert Pattinson’s pale, poreless face. Half of the predominantly female crowd experiences spontaneous puberty at first glance, as denoted by a series of high-pitched squeals. During one of Twilight’s many, many googling-to-dramatic-music scenes (there’s not a lot of what you might call “action” in this one), I join in. My shrieked commentary goes unappreciated, as does my unrestrained laughter during what I shall forever refer to as the “lion and the lamb sexless sex scene,” where Bella and Edward lie in a field of flowers (Edward all a-sparkling) and drone their way through the worst exchange of the series:
“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb,” says Edward.
“What a stupid lamb,” says Bella.
“What a sick, masochistic lion,” counters Edward.
This is how 13-year-old girls learn about sex now, everyone.
Enriched by the first movie’s potent kitsch factor, I find myself in high spirits. New Moon turns out to be one of the series’ high points: It seems like a movie people would actually watch. Bella acknowledges that she’s a 17-year-old dating a man in his early 100s, newly-minted werewolf Jacob Black reminds the audience that his affliction isn’t a “lifestyle choice,” and auxiliary character Jessica Stanley takes society to task for being too pleased with its “self-referential cleverness.” Even a woman screaming a vociferous “YES!” when Jacob asks Bella if he can climb through her bedroom window doesn’t ruin my enjoyment. What does destroy my hope that these movies will be “good” in a traditional sense is a contrived “let’s keep the lovers apart” plot point, when Edward abandons Bella. Convinced he will one day accidentally hurt her, he breaks her heart to avoid breaking her neck. The woman next to me openly weeps at the breakup—as she will for the remaining three films—despite the fact that she presumably knows that they’ll get back together. Who am I to judge, though? I cried the first time I saw the scene too… when it was a part of White Fang.
So far no one has managed answer the biggest question—who is Bella talking to in her dopey voice-overs? Will the series end in a Breakfast Club-style, “What I found out is that each one of us is a werewolf, a vampire, and a dull high-schooler”? No such luck.
The weakest link of the series, Eclipse doesn’t have Twilight’s campiness or New Moon’s (relatively) high production values. Action highlights include vampires smashing each other’s heads in with sound effects that suggest they are made of porcelain. The only thing louder is the rolling of my eyes.
As for our lovesick triangle? Jacob and Edward take turns pouting and shouting to determine, not who’s better looking (even they seem to know that they’re both too pretty to be taken seriously), but Bella’s future. I converse with my inner feminist, who reminds that despite deciding poorly, Bella’s choice to indulge her two suitors is still a choice—a choice between which strong man will take care of her. These movies get scarier the more you think about them.
Breaking Dawn Part 1:
Shortly before the third movie, I meet my first costumed attendee: a young girl who wears a shirt that says “I (Heart) Boys Who Sparkle” and a Volturi (the evil vampires) cape. She giggles when I ask if I can take her photo and is unsure of what I mean when I ask her to pose like her character Jane. I guess Twilight fandom hasn’t reached the point where minor characters are obsessed over (see Star Wars and Boba Fett).
In this one, we come to the big moment. Edward and Bella tie the knot and are finally free to have hot (off-camera) sex. To the tune of teenage gasps, Bella walks down the aisle. I promptly burst into tears. Is it my best friend’s approaching nuptials, finding myself single at 30, or merely a caramel corn-induced comedown? I feel as though I should offer the people around me a disclaimer: I’M NOT FEELING THE SAME FEELINGS YOU GUYS ARE, I SWEAR. I’M AN ADULT. Instead, the woman to my left offers me a tissue. I have been adopted into the coven.
Finally, we get to the money shot—Bella’s long awaited transformation to a vampire after an unexpectedly gruesome c-section by way of Edward’s fangs (aka the best abstinence PSA you’re likely to ever see). The process is shown through a series of washed-out clips that I briefly mistake for Instagram product placement.
Breaking Dawn Part 2:
Like Princess Kate post-wedding, I find that my distain for Bella cools after she joins the family. What does this say for Kristen Stewart’s acting career, that her natural awkwardness makes her an ideal member of the undead? There’s a plot in this one, a bunch of fairly impressive Bill Condon-directed battles, but I’m too tired to care. I find myself briefly zoning out, exhaustion tempered with elaborate fantasies involving a vampire Lee Pace. (Take off the earrings, close up on the fangs…)
Despite a marked improvement in filmmaking, the series ends much as it begins—with a series of melodramatic platitudes. We have lapped ourselves. We’re back in vapid lovey-dovey land: “No one has ever loved anybody as much as I love you,” coos Bella to Edward as they lay in a field of flowers. My heart sinks. Anybody? They’ve used up all the love? Am I destined for old maid status? Should I start investing in cats for lack of a vampire beau? For a moment these questions are heartbreakingly sincere—a sign that, for whatever it’s worth, my brain has snapped.
And so the journey ends, not with a bang but with a whispered sweet nothing. What happens to Edward and Bella after the credits roll? Do they really just spend eternity looking into each other’s eyes and being pathetically happy? Probably. Who cares? We push our way through the clogged lobby, and into the night air. It’s night already? Oh yeah, 13 hours, right. Outside, the moon shines through a fog bank. If I stare hard enough, it sparkles. I need to get some sleep.