What's Missing From 'Eclipse'

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In the absence of a more viable blockbuster to go see on July 4 (and no, The Last Airbender doesn't count, particularly if it does harm to Dev Patel's career), a friend and I schlepped out to see Eclipse. I hated the Twilight books, but the movie has some small, pleasant surprises. Jackson Rathbone and Ashley Greene are quite good as Jasper Hale and Alice Cullen, and have much more sexual chemistry than Kristen Stewart does with either Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner (though, to her credit, when she's acting against anyone with any chops or looseness whatsoever, Stewart's terrific, the best thing in the movie). Billy Burke is excellent as Charlie, Bella's father, whom the movie treats with fairly consistent condescension all out of proportion to the character's decency. And there is some seriously gorgeous scenery in there. But most of all, the movie helped me figure out why I disliked the books so much.

It's really not Bella's passivity, or the obsessiveness of her love affair with Edward. It's in the scene where Bella tells Rosalie she's sure there's nothing she'll ever want more than Edward, and Rosalie tells Bella she's going to want blood. No one in the universe has anything they really want, anything they really care about, other than their partners. Vampires and wolves stick to their own sides of a river? Hey, historical rules aren't that important. Worried about your daughter having an obsessive love affair? It'll prove to be not that important when she shows up and tells you she's engaged. Your somewhat flaky mother makes a really thoughtful gesture and gives you a quilt? Give her a long hug and prepare to ditch her anyway. Your friends are going off to live their lives and go to college and figure out what the hell they want to do (in the words of a charming Anna Kendrick, rising above some deeply dreadful writing)? These are the concerns of mere mortals.

People complain a great deal that Stephenie Meyer's characters are just vessels for readers who want to imagine themselves as the objects of obsessive love. I think some of that's true, but she also captures a lot of what it's like to be 17 and feeling the most intense thing you've ever felt in your life. She's not wrong about that. But she's wrong in that her characters can't think of anything else they want than love. In a cast as big as this, no one has career ambitions? No one has great friendships? No one desperately wants to go to the big city? No one's a shopping addict, or an alcoholic, or concerned with societal ills? In a group of vampires and werewolves, all of the main characters have tamed their amoral urges? In a world like this, no conflict can persist, which I guess is comforting. But nothing of any other consequence can happen either. Wolves and vampires can clash in the woods. People can die. And none of it will matter.

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Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture writer with The Washington Post.

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