Saturday, December 19, 2009

Twilight Review: Part II

In case you missed Part I, catch up here!

So. What is it that makes Twilight click with almost all ages of a primarily female audience? Perhaps one explanation is that despite Stewart's impassive rendition of the lead role, Bella remains a relatable main character. No longer living with her mother and unable to communicate freely with her single father, she strikes a chord with the millions of viewers who are also the products of broken marriages and may be struggling to maintain a bond with their parents. Slightly awkward, introverted, and somewhat lonely, Bella also speaks directly to women who may feel similarly self-conscious or insecure, whether they are currently experiencing or looking back on the emotional roller-coaster that is adolescence. Her athletic ineptitude, tendency to slip on ice, and altogether clumsiness is what makes her endearing. Young girls can look to her for hope that they need not be exceptionally attractive, talented, or part of the most popular cliques in school to find someone who will love them unconditionally. Meanwhile, through Bella, older women can reconnect with the younger versions of themselves and indulge in reliving their teen fantasy of finding their "one true love".

Especially when that fantasy comes in the perfectly sculpted form of Edward Cullen. Brave, beautiful--albeit dreadfully face-painted--and hopelessly enamored with Bella, Edward is what every girl wants and every wife or mother can remember wanting. His appeal is enhanced by the very fact that as a vampire he is, for all intents and purposes, off-limits. As it is often human nature to yearn for what we cannot have, Edward is the ultimate object of desire for whom to pine. His complete devotion is made even more attractive by his selfless commitment to sacrifice his own sexual impulses and longings for Bella's safety. Although she implores him to make her a vampire as well so that they can spend eternity together, he refuses, understanding that doing so would only devalue her existence. A symbol of the mom-approved virtues of abstinence and unwavering loyalty, Edward embodies qualities that are rare to come by in this day, making him that much more of an ideal lover in the eyes of female audiences. Despite the occasional disagreement girls may have over his ashy looks, then, Edward, with his admirable character and morals, remains the perfect guy.

Further contributing to Twilight's appeal is the pairing of two genres. Vampirism purists may not appreciate the tweaking of the theme; however, Hardwicke seems to use the modern-day context of the alter the traits of vampirism so as to work in its favor. While some features, such as the undeniable sexual undertones and implications of mortal danger, are retained, Twilight's vampires do not don dark capes or bear overgrown fangs like their counterparts in films past. Instead, dressed in normal human clothing and each blessed with striking good looks, the Cullens are much more accessible to audiences who may be wary of or unaccustomed to traditional depictions of vampires. This more viewer-friendly treatment, coupled with the ever-reliable concept of ill-fated love, results in a winning combination. As seen by the popularity of classic tales such as Romeo and Juliet or even the relatively recent Titanic or Moulin Rouge, the idea of individuals from two drastically different worlds finding soulmates in each other is timeless. It resonates with female audiences who relish the emotion-filled journey of an eternal romance; Bella and Edward become the latest addition to a long history of lovers who, knowing that theirs is a risky and likely doomed relationship, are nevertheless willing to face anything to hold on to it. Wrought with the very real human battle of the heart versus the mind, Twilight's use of this tried and true formula seals the film's potential for success.

Finally, while one would prefer for the film to stand on its own, it is impossible to conclude a discussion of it's appeal without recognizing that it is due in large part to the branding of the Twilight series and the loyalty of its readers. With over 21 million fan sites, countless cast interviews in print and on screen, and memorabilia that range from Edward-themed underwear to tattoos bearing the Cullen crest, it has been impossible in the last two years not to encounter some representation of how saturated the media and society have become with all things Twilight. Not only can the expanding franchise nourish existing obsessions, but it can spark new ones as well, sweeping the unassuming bystander into the craze*. As such an all-consuming aspect of popular culture today for teenage girls in particular, it is almost as though a passion--or at least a familiarity--for the Twilight books and films is required for them to conduct their social lives without becoming outcasts among their peers. The marketing of Twilight has also led fans to become attached to the characters even outside the realm of the series: they inform themselves of the actors' personal lives; join "teams" devoted to Robert, Kristin, or Taylor; go to bizarre lengths to enter contests that will win them a day with the cast; and begin to see themselves not just as viewers but as part of the Twilight ensemble. It is this extensive audience investment, fuelled by the multitude of media outlets that feed their obsession, which augments Twilight mania and sends the public flocking into theaters to see their favorite stars in action.

Thus, despite the film's woeful lack of cinematic brilliance, Twilight's ability to engage female viewers with its relatable story, clever use of genres, strategic casting, and shrewd marketing allows it to secure its place as the premier love story of its time and win a fan base that is as faithful as Edward is to Bella. As a result, no matter how terrific or terrible the remaining films may be, Twi-hards are here to stay and will ensure that they are destined for the same--if not more--success.

*Apparently my cynicism has reached a point where ample views of vampires and werewolves with washboard abs have no effect on me, thus allowing me to escape from said craze unscathed.

1 comment:

  1. haha i love the fact that you are beyond werewolves with washboard abs...cynicism trumps all, eh? :)