How 'Twilight' Lost Me
The series captured the thrill of young love, but then refused to let its characters grow up
I'm breaking up with Twilight. I've read three of the four books and seen all the movies. I have a T-shirt with Edward's face on it, which I bought on my way into the theater the day the third film came out. I've defended the series against friends and critics who call it poorly written or dismiss its protagonist, Bella, as a bad role model for girls. But after seeing Breaking Dawn Part I—the fourth and most recent film based on Stephenie Meyers' best-selling books, and the most popular movie in America for the past two weeks—I'm finished. When the final film comes out next year, I'm staying home.
Saying goodbye to Twilight isn't easy for me. I saw the first movie when it came out in the theaters three years ago and emerged from the multiplex converted. Sure, the vampire bits were cool (I especially loved the scene where the Cullens play a super-powered game of baseball), but what won me over was the aching humanity of it all. The way Bella gazes at Edward during science class, delighted at the mere opportunity to touch his hand. The moments of charged, awkward silence during the pair's first meal together. Bella's insistence that they spend every waking—and sleeping—moment together. I'd been there: I'd felt that intense longing for a handsome, mysterious classmate; that exciting discomfort of a first date with someone I really, really liked; that desire to be with a person all the time, for fear that even a brief period of separation would lead to a cooling of affections. I'd felt all those things—and felt a bit embarrassed about it. Twilight was the first movie I'd seen that portrayed a young woman in the throes of first love, in all its messy glory, and didn't make her seem crazy or desperate. Twilight took her feelings seriously. What a revelation!
I sent this breathless email to two friends who were fans of the series:
What girl doesn't think of herself as a Bella-esque character: quietly intelligent, about to be noticed by a dark, brooding handsome stranger with a past?? Plus, it takes place in the Pacific Northwest, the home of all that great alterna-music that was popular in our early teenage days. I love it.
I immediately devoured the first three books, which all faithfully depicted familiar elements of young-adult romance: the excitement of a serious crush and the thrill of realizing it's reciprocated, the devastation of a breakup, the agony of choosing between a dangerous, unreliable guy who makes your blood boil with passion and a safe, dependable guy whom you love like a brother—but not more.
I stopped reading at the fourth book, the one where Bella and Edward get married and have a child. I bought it but couldn't get past the first few pages. After seeing Breaking Dawn last week, I have no desire to give it another try. If the first parts of the series made me feel a little better about the emotional histrionics in my past, the latest installment filled me with fear about the idea of letting those emotions continue to guide me in the future. Others have written about the film's horrifying depiction of marriage and childbirth: Bella becomes pregnant on her honeymoon with a fast-growing, half-vampire fetus. The pregnancy saps her of energy, forcing her to drink human blood to gain strength. And then when it comes time to deliver, her spine breaks in half and Edward has to chew the baby out of her. It's disgusting.
But as with the earlier chapters of the saga, it was the smaller, more human details that resonated with me—and in this case, turned me off. As Bella walks down the aisle on her father's arm in one of the early scenes of the movie, she looks nothing like the bride I hope to be. The expression on her face is not a grin of excitement at marrying Edward or even tears of sadness at leaving her family and starting a new life as a wife. Instead, Bella looks stricken: pale and very, very afraid. Later in the film, we see she had reason to be apprehensive about marrying Edward—not just because he gets her pregnant with a vampire baby that nearly kills her. Edward is a disappointing husband for a much more quotidian reason: He has, to borrow a phrase from pop psychology, "intimacy issues." He's distant from Bella, alternately impatient and condescending. He won't even have sex with her more than once or twice. And as a result, Bella spends most of their early marriage pouting, sighing, and prancing around in lingerie in a futile attempt to seduce him. In other words, they both act like the teenagers they are: he moody and emotionally detached, she needy and clingy.
And that, in the end, is why Twilight lost me—because it traps its characters in the emotional landscape of high school, even as they start making adult decisions like getting married and keeping a baby who's threatening her mother's health. Breaking Dawn is the most compelling argument I've seen for why you shouldn't marry the brooding guy you had a crush on in junior-year science class. It's comforting to have your adolescent drama validated, but you don't want to wallow in those feelings forever. Eventually you want to grow up. Twilight doesn't let its characters do that, so I'm moving on.