And so the parable of the unpopped cherry goes on … and on. The epic of the unbroken duck continues. As the final whistle blows on the third Eclipse movie, after more than two hours, with still nothing on the scoreboard, virginal high-school teen Bella Swan is starting to make Doris Day look like the nympho from hell.
Bella (Kristen Stewart) is still deeply in love with dreamboat vampire Edward Cullen, played by Robert Pattinson, who has unattractive sideburns, beige contact lenses and increasingly quiffy hair, like some sort of diffident, undead Elvis. But she, of course, is also being courted by a werewolf hunk called Jacob, played by Taylor Lautner, a reckless, shirtless individual who has fallen for her. Both Edward and Jacob are gallant enough to realise that pressing their physical attentions on Bella means her having to relinquish human identity and commit. And there is no question of any noisome compromise, such as that by which ex-President Clinton technically avoided "relations" with Monica Lewinsky. So far, Bella has been reluctant to take the momentous step, but she certainly likes Edward more than Jacob.
As the film starts, the idea seems to be that she will make Edward wait only as far as her high-school graduation. But then things change. Edward proposes marriage and so the moment is deferred. Now he will wait until they are actually Mr and Mrs Cullen. Who knows if there won't be many other excuses to put off the evil hour? Perhaps she will make Edward wait until she's left college, until she's finished grad school, until she's had her bar exam, or until he's had his first prostate exam. Or perhaps she will relent and give him a portion at some stage in the fourth and fifth Twilight movies: Breaking Dawn Part One (expected 2011) and Breaking Dawn Part Two (expected 2012). I only hope that these people's expectation of their first experience has not become unrealistically high. In the meantime, Bella's L-plates seem to be pretty much welded to her moped – and I moreover wonder if there isn't another undercurrent of emotion flowing here.
The latest crisis in Bella's emotional and non-sexual life happens to coincide with a terrible situation in Seattle. A grotesque serial killer is reportedly laying waste to the local population: news that Bella's divorced cop dad monitors by idly reading the headlines in the local paper, while perhaps sipping a frosty one from the fridge. We see one empty can on the coffee table, denoting that he is lonely, but not excessively so.
But we know that the culprit is not homo sapiens, as such. A crew of "newborn" vampires is running wild, under the influence of the red-haired Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard), who is out for revenge after Edward killed her lover, James, in the previous movie. This awful new bunch of vampires is thirsting to destroy Bella. So the vampires and the werewolves, Team Edward and Team Jacob, have to team up to see off the intruders and protect Bella.
There is an arresting scene in which, having used Bella's scent to lure the newborns to a certain stategically advantageous part of the forest for a showdown, Jacob has to carry her around the woods in his hunky arms to mask her musk – I think – and Bella snuggles coyly in his stern embrace. This looks like yet another excuse for non-sex contact.
It has become a truism to notice that the romance of vampires and other creatures in the Twilight books and movies is a metaphor for abstinence and denial. Over and over again, Edward and Jacob square up; over and over again, they find themselves smouldering at each other, at close quarters. Somehow, they find themselves camping out on the remote mountain, all three of them sharing a tent, and while Bella demurely gets some sleep, these two alpha males yet again face off, taunting each other. "I really get under that ice-cold skin of yours, don't I?" breathes Jacob. "If we weren't natural enemies, I might actually like you," murmurs Edward.
Oh my lordy, you could cut the tension with a knife. Later, Jacob discovers that Edward is engaged to be married to Bella, and he is really upset, and the audience is entitled to wonder if his state of mind isn't cloudier than it at first appears. If E Annie Proulx and Larry McMurtry were writing this, Jacob might have to go away and get some unsatisfying cowpoke job after he came down off the mountain, while Edward works in Bella's father's farm machinery business. As it is, they struggle on in the roles society has laid down for them. This vampire tale was a refreshing novelty in the first film: with the fourth and fifth now on the way, it could be time to sharpen the wooden stake.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is like last’s year’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon on steroids. Everything that was slightly good in that film becomes better. There’s slightly more intentional humor, less of protagonist Bella Swan moping, and some mostly well-done (if slightly redundant at times) set pieces. But the aspect of the The Twilight Saga I hate the most—the advocating for the possession of a woman under the guise of “love”—is taken to an excruciating level. I know that this review can’t dissuade fans from seeing the movie. I know that I’ve made my problems with the subtext clear in my reviews of the first two films. So what I’d like to do this time out is struggle with why the fans love this series and what had them cheering at the end of the movie.
Bella (Kristen Stewart) wants to become a vampire so she can be with Edward (Robert Pattinson) forever. She’s willing to leave behind everyone else in her life because that “love” is so strong. For the record, this is what people in cults do. Edward makes weak-willed attempts to convince her not to change, but at no point does he flat out say “No.” Instead, he puts the condition on her that she has to first marry him before he’ll turn her into a soulless creature who will love blood even more than she loves Edward. Is it really so bad that Stewart would love Edward until the end of her life? Eternity is an awfully long time and I suspect a relationship like this can only work if the people never change emotionally. I suppose it would be nice if we could be frozen in time forever, but the wonderful thing about life is that we grow and experience new things. The Cullen Clan is stuck in a cycle. They keep going to high schools, they keep moving to new towns, and remain aloof in order to hide their vampirism from the living.
But if Bella chooses to remain human, then she can be with the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) because the notion of being single is apparently an anathema to her. Bella also has feelings for Jacob because Jacob says she does. When his character wasn’t brooding, Lautner was one of the few good things in New Moon. In Eclipse he’s one of the worst. Jacob comes on like an abusive boyfriend who tells Bella what she’s feeling. When he tries to kiss her, she punches him in the face only to break her hand (that’ll teach her to refuse a man’s advances!). Jacob spends the movie treating Bella like crap or getting into a pissing contest with Edward. The only point the werewolf and vampire agree on is that Bella can’t defend herself so they have to do it.
To be fair, Bella can’t do much against an oncoming threat of an angry army of freshly created vampires come to kill her and the Cullens. Victoria (originally played by Rachelle Lefevre but recast with Bryce Dallas Howard in the role) is still sore about Edward killing her boyfriend James in the first movie and so she marshals an “army” (it’s about fifteen vamps) to descend on the town of Forks and take out Bella and the Cullens. Outmatched, the Cullens are forced to turn the sworn enemies of the vampires, the werewolves. Stripped down to its bare elements a revenge tale that turns into a war which unites age-old enemies is a solid premise. And on a technical level, director David Slade has made the best the best Twilight movie yet. The action scenes are—for the most part—well executed and look convincing.
Unfortunately, these scenes exist in the Twilight universe of mostly unlikable characters and its grotesque depiction of “romance”. The extent to which Bella is depicted as helpless is hilarious/disturbing/depressing. All she can do to aide against Victoria’s 15-vampire-army is to act as bait. When part of protecting Bella calls for Jacob to mask her in his werewolf sent, he needs to carry her for some inexplicable reason. She’s not even allowed to walk on her own. Oh, and every time he carries her, he’s shirtless. At least Eclipse has the courtesy to crack a joke about it.
Detached from the depressingly terrible Edward-Bella-Jacob love-triangle, Bella isn’t a completely awful character. She’s certainly better than her psychotic post-breakup dementia of New Moon, but that’s due in large part to her stepping away from the “love” drama and interacting with her parents. The point of those scenes is to demonstrate what Bella will lose once she becomes a vampire, but they show a far better life for her. It’s a life of independence where she goes to college and becomes her own woman. But Bella knows it’s better to throw it all away for Edward.
As I asked in my New Moon review, what is appealing about Edward Cullen? What are his interests? What makes him special beyond his physical attractiveness and complete devotion to the equally vapid Bella? It doesn’t help that Pattinson’s performance consists of furrowing his brow and cracking a brief smile to remind us that he’s happy around Bella (when she’s not in mortal danger). His sexual abstinence is also curious. When Bella tries to make a move, he pulls away and basically calls her a slut as he explains that back when he was alive things were less “complicated” and courtship was more prolonged and people only had sex after marriage. Edward’s willing to give up his life to protect Bella, but when she wants to be physically intimate with him, he refuses. While I can respect abstinence, I find it unnerving in Twlight because it sends a message that a woman’s sexual desire is somehow undesirable and incompatible with love.
I honestly ask all Twilight fans who read this website one question: why do you like this? As to the movie itself, I would say it’s the least terrible one so far. I can’t stand the subtext, but on a technical level it surpasses Twilight (which upon further review is worse than I originally thought) and New Moon. The movie is filled with other problems including the atrocious soundtrack and the forced inclusion of the Volturi who do almost nothing, but these are minor missteps compared to The Twilight Saga‘s outright hatred of feminism. Even if the great Bill Condon manages to craft a technically sound movie, there’s nothing anyone can do to conquer the horrible subtext.