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Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight on Film

[1]1,644 words

Catherine Hardwicke’s movie Twilight [2] is based on the first novel of a series by Stephenie Meyer. The books mostly appeal to young women, and the advertisements for the movie screamed “chick flick,” so I gave it a pass when it was released in theaters. But I admire Joss Whedon’s series Angel, about a vampire with a soul, and when I heard that Twilight centers around a similar character, I was intrigued enough to order it on DVD.

I am glad I did, because Twilight is an excellent movie: beautifully filmed, artfully-directed, well-acted, with a gorgeous cast and scenery, and very good music. But most importantly, although it is decked out in the usual Semiticially correct Hollywood cliches, the overall message and impression of Twilight is quite subversive of Hollywood’s agenda. This is particularly interesting since it is directed at young adults, who are the main targets of Hollywood’s pro-feminist and anti-white propaganda.

Twilight begins with Bella Swan (played by Kristen Stewart) leaving her mother in sunny Phoenix to finish out her Junior year in High School with her father in Forks, Washington. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, Forks is blanketed almost year-round by clouds, fog, and rain.

Bella is a lovely brown-eyed brunette with an exceptionally fair complexion, which gives her a somewhat “Goth” look, although for all I know this analogy is hopelessly dated. Even her name connotes white beauty, for bella is Italian for beautiful, and swans are archetypically white and graceful.

Despite her “Goth” look, Bella is not merely a moody and maladjusted teen with morbid tastes. She is a remarkably mature, intelligent, bookish, and sensitive girl who studied ballet and knows something about classical music.

For a small town in Washington State, Forks has an implausible number of non-whites. The only non-whites who really fit in this setting are the local Indians, who are on quite friendly terms with Bella and her father, the local police chief. (Out West in the real world, Indians are overrepresented among criminals and tend not to have warm relations with policemen.)

The students Bella meets are a friendly enough bunch, but they seem immature and one-dimensional compared to her. Bella’s attention, however, is immediately drawn to Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson). Tall and handsome, Edward like Bella is a brown-eyed brunette with a fair complexion. It looks like makeup, and I am sure the effect is achieved by makeup and lighting, but in close-ups one can see blue veins beneath his skin. Edward’s parents Carlisle and Esme (played by Peter Facinelli and Elizabeth Reaser) share Edward’s pallor. Strangely, it is also shared by Edward’s four foster siblings: Emmet and Rosalie (played by Kellan Lutz and Nikki Reed) and Alice and Jasper (played by Ashley Greene and Jackson Rathbone), who, to add to the weirdness, also seem to be romantic couples.

Edward is obviously as attracted to Bella as she is to him. But he also resists this attraction and flees Bella, which only increases her fascination. She begins to notice strange things about Edward. His eyes change color; his skin is ice cold; he is astonishingly fast and strong; and he and his entire family disappear on the rare days when the sun shines in Forks. . . . You see where this is leading.

The Cullens are vampires. But there is a twist. They do not want to be monsters. Although they have a strong craving for human blood, they resist it and feed on animals instead. As they put it, they are the vampire equivalent of vegetarians. But resisting the hunger is hard, so they are forced to remain aloof from normal people. Edward, however, is in love with Bella. Hence an exquisite conflict: how can he get close enough to love her without succumbing to the temptation to eat her?

I will say no more about the plot of Twilight. Suffice it to say that the romance of Edward and Bella is fascinating: emotionally and morally complex, beautifully acted and directed, and just plain hot. But, remarkably, all of this is portrayed without resorting to depictions of nudity and sex.

Aside from the absurdly multi-racial cast of bit-players, the heart of Twilight is deeply politically incorrect in three ways.

First, the heroes of Twilight are two very unusual teenagers. Edward and Bella are intelligent, thoughtful, well-mannered, serious-minded, and cultured. This is not surprising in the case of Edward, who has lived for more than a century. But Bella really is a teenager. Twilight does not mock manners and refined tastes as stuffy, snobbish, and old-fashioned. It displays them in their full beauty and shows that they are consistent with being young, fun-loving, and sexy. This is remarkable message for a movie aimed at a young audience.

The second politically incorrect feature of Twilight is the movie’s aesthetic of whiteness. One does not need slogans like “White is Beautiful,” because it is so obvious. But while the cultural establishment exploits the white racial aesthetic, it also undermines it, particularly by promoting the ideas that tanning is beautiful and healthy-looking while having a fair complexion is ugly and unhealthy looking. (Of course a corpse-like pallor does look unhealthy, but a fair complexion that is rosy and pink with health obviously does not. Tanning, as Socrates pointed out, does not make people healthy; it merely adds color to the sick and the healthy alike, allowing one to mask one’s sickliness.) Promoting tanning is the cosmetic equivalent of miscegenation: it replaces distinctly white characteristics with non-white ones. (One can, of course, lose one’s tan, but not the skin damage that comes with it. Miscegenation, however, is forever.)

Bella and the Cullens are, of course, a whiter shade of pale. Too white to really be healthy. But nonetheless, they force you to confront just how beautiful palefaces can be. They look like they have stepped out of old paintings from the days when people valued fair complexions and tried to preserve them. Of course all the actors have fine features, which is the bedrock of beauty no matter what the skin tone. But their fair skin, especially combined with dark hair and eyes and red lips, makes their faces astonishingly expressive in the most subtle ways. (Twilight promotes a white aesthetic, but not a blonde-haired, blue-eyed one, since these contrast less strikingly with fair skin.) Facial expressiveness is a matter of contrasts, and the fairer the complexion, the wider the range of contrasts that can be observed, from the most subtle blush to the most marked expressions of fear and anger. (This, by the way, is why Blacks rely so heavily on their eyes and teeth to express their emotions, since these contrast most sharply with their complexions.)

The third way in which Twilight is politically incorrect is that the whole thrust of the movie is deeply anti-feminist. In one scene, Bella tells one of her racially indeterminate schoolmates that she should ask a guy to the prom rather than wait for him to ask her, because she is “a strong, independent woman.” This strong, independent woman takes Bella’s advice and gets the date she wants: a flamboyantly effeminate Chinese wimp. Together, they are the feminist establishment’s ideal androgynous couple, and nobody in his or her right mind would want to emulate them.

Bella, however, is not interested in the nice, non-threatening boys in her high school. She only has eyes for Edward, because she senses that he has powerful emotions that he is struggling to keep in check. She is attracted to him because he is dangerous. But even when she unravels Edward’s secret, she is not dissuaded from pursuing him, but instead is even more fascinated.

There is a remarkable exchange between Bella and Edward once they openly acknowledge that he is a vampire. He says that she should flee from him. He is the most dangerous predator in nature. Everything about him is designed to attract her: his looks, his voice, his smell. But if she tried to run away from him, he could outrun her. If she tried to fight him off, he could overpower her. It is only the strength of his will and chivalrous instincts, and his desire for a deeper and longer-lasting form of union, that protects her.

Bella is no Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no Xena: Warrior Princess. Edward makes her feel anything but strong and independent. That is what makes him so irresistible. But he does make her feel deeply feminine, and deeply powerful in a different way. For Edward, despite all of his strength, is incomplete, and as a woman Bella possesses something that has made this fierce and formidable killer helplessly in love with her. Yet loving her does not emasculate him, and this is good, because the same strength and capacity for violence that could rape and kill her allows Edward to go on to save Bella from being raped and killed by others.

Edward’s potential for violence and the chivalry that holds it in check  may be heightened by his vampire nature, but there is nothing supernatural about them. Edward Cullen is what in decades past was known as a red-blooded American male. Bella too is a classic figure from fiction: a damsel whose awareness of her physical weakness and vulnerability only heightens her sense of a woman’s true strength.

Of course for decades now the popular culture has worked to emasculate men and masculinize women: to turn men into the non-threatening males Bella spurns and to convince women that strength lies in casting aside all distinctly female roles and competing with men in traditionally male pursuits (or drive their men crazy in trying).

It is a testimony to the power of this propaganda that true manliness can now appear only in the guise of a monster. It is a testament to the even greater power of nature that women find the monster irresistible nonetheless.