revisiting the twilight saga

twilight

towards the end of college most of my friends were either queer folks or straight girls who hung out primarily with queer folks. I like to think if i had come out as trans in college (had my gender identity not been stuck pretty stubbornly at “questioning” at the time), it would’ve gone just fine.

one of the many things i shared with the vast majority of the girls in my immediate social circle (and none of the boys; seriously, none) was an enthusiastic appreciation for the twilight books. i had them pushed on me by one of my friends when the third book was already out, but this was back when i read pretty voraciously and it wasn’t hard to convince me to pick up a new book, especially if it would give me something to talk to my friends about. i didn’t know why and i still don’t entirely know why (though i think i have some guesses), but i fucking loved twilight. this admission is something that would’ve caused me great shame a year or two ago when i was trying to act like a Serious Film Critic, but like, honestly fuck that noise and fuck me for my posturing.

i devoured all three books in weeks and was super ready by the time the first movie came out. me and the girls all went to see a midnight showing and… well, we were honestly kinda shellshocked afterwards? we all stood in a circle in the lobby of the movie theater just kind of staring at each other awkwardly trying to articulate what had been so wrong about the movie. i remember getting a huge laugh for essentially not being able to say much more than, “… no, yeah, that was a great joke. where’s the real movie?” i remember my friend from my p90x class (she lightly bullied me to encourage me to work out harder, it was honestly super great and i really wish i had that with someone today?) just being her characteristic combination of angry and amused. i remember so many other people’s reactions. and just… if you had asked any of us, none of us would have taken the experience back, i don’t think? because it was really, really honestly pretty fucking great that we experienced it together and it was so meaningful to us, no matter how much it might not seem to have deserved the level of reaction we were giving it?

obviously in the intervening years i’ve come to understand that there are some super problematic things about twilight and i’m not going to pretend my feelings about it aren’t super mixed, but like… i think it’s pretty fucking ok that me and my friends liked the books? and i think it’s pretty fucking ok that a lot of teenage-to-twenty-something girls all over the damn country had the same experience? it might not make a lot of sense in retrospect, but i’m sorry for not retroactively siding with the line of sneering guys who pathologically needed to treat the popularity of something like twilight as though it were the coming of the apocalypse?

it’s so very, very easy to point to a number of things in twilight that i do agree genuinely are problematic and pretend that that’s the reason for all the vitriol. if you don’t want to like twilight, that’s totally fine? but like. the just terrifying amount of backlash it encountered really, really seems like it’s stemming from… y’know… Something Else. something that has nothing to do with the fact that edward is an awful boyfriend. something that has nothing to do with the fact that stephanie meyer is a devout mormon and made her ideal boyfriend full of sexual repression and super controlling behaviors. yes, the twilight books and movies are juvenile and indulgent and pretty trashy. so like. most of popular culture, only not for boys.

i’m not here to argue that the Twilight books and movies are some kind of secret masterpieces. i’m not here to argue that parts of them aren’t super fucking creepy. but like… the absolute memeification of disgust they provoke just super, super does not have anything to do with that and i’m really, really tired of it? and it feels like it’s impossible to have a reaction to the books/movies without dealing with that in some way? & this is how i choose to deal with it: they’re just not that fucking bad, guys. sorry.

i wouldn’t go out of my way to find and appreciate something like Twilight today. like, for one thing, it is extremely for straight girls, and that’s… y’know… not me? at all? but like, it makes sense that i latched on to something this girly at the moment that i did even if it’s very, very much for the straights. and i am just so fucking annoyed by my own instincts to deny the joy that these books genuinely gave me, and the social spark that discussing them with my girls provided. they’re trashy, they’re indulgent, they’re riddled with antifeminist and otherwise pernicious themes… but y’know what? i’m sorry. they’re just not that bad.

i can’t entirely account for how the first movie traumatized me and my friends so much. maybe it just had impossible expectations to live up to. maybe none of us were quite in a place to accept how awkward and trashy the books actually were and seeing them played out in a more visual medium broke the spell for us to an extent. all i know is, sitting down to rewatch this for (i think?) the first time since, it’s just… also not that bad? maybe i’m just less demanding now than i’ve ever been before. i don’t know.

the first twilight movie is fine, ok? it’s fine. it’s silly. it’s fun. it has problems. it has so, so many problems, but i don’t care. i like it. i don’t love it. but i like it. fuck you.

(b-rank)

new moon

although my feelings towards the first film have considerably softened, i remember thinking that this was drastically less awkward than the first one. i think that’s owing in a large part to the fact that edward/robert pattinson is largely absent from the film. it’s not just that edward is horribly written, it’s also that robert pattinson was openly contemptuous of the character and the story and it was just super, super obvious in his performance sometimes. and y’know what? he can fuck off tbh. these movies didn’t do any favors for taylor lautner’s or especially, especially kristen stewart’s careers, and they were nothing but professional throughout the entire thing. i see you, manbaby.

the thing is even though edward is absent from the movie, the abusive dynamic between him and bella just absolutely is not. and like, omgosh this movie is unhealthy as hell, y’all. like, probably the most unhealthy one until the last two. (i assume; i’ve not seen the very last one yet, but i’ve seen part 1 and i’ve read the book it’s based on, sooooo yeah.)

so, like, ok. in the last review i mentioned that i know these books/movies are problematic as hell but didnt really make it a whole, idk, thing, because that isn’t really what i was focusing on? but i guess let’s get into it a little? one element that is pretty extremely fucked up is that edward is a vampire that’s over a hundred years old and bella is a high school girl. so. that is not remotely ok? like, at fucking all? i’m not just being a goddessdamn prude here, she is a freaking teenager and he has lived and experienced over a lifetime’s worth of life experiences. i’m sorry, but this is wrong. just… totally, completely wrong. and this sequel really really leans into this grossness. when jacob literally says “age is just a number” when bella is teasing him about the one year age difference between them and just omfuckinggosh if you’re going for self-awareness there, swing and a miss.

that isn’t the only problematic element, obviously. edward is extremely controlling, but that’s been discussed to death and i really don’t think you need me to add to that? but just be aware that i know that’s there, ok? one thing that rly rly jumped out at me in the first movie was that carlisle explicitly gave edward the choice of whether to let bella become a vampire (which is what she wanted). if i remember correctly in the book she was unconscious so at least it’s not like carlisle was giving the choice to edward right in front of her; in the movie she didn’t appear to be. either way, they obviously should’ve respected her very clear wishes. that’s just a basic lack of respect for an individual’s autonomy. and also it was risky as hell because edward wasn’t sure that he could stop drinking her blood once the venom was out. and he didn’t??? carlisle had to intervene to get him back to his senses. and it’s treated as this super cool bit of self control but like… maybe don’t do the thing that might kill bella and explicitly violates her wishes? (it’s… not difficult to see parallels to things like abortion and trans healthcare here, right? please tell me it’s not.)

while we’re still talking about things about this that annoyed me, can we talk about how the non-date bella went on with jacob and mike with them fighting over her the whole time was actually somehow straighter than the scene in twilight where edward comes to meet bella’s dad and he’s cleaning his shotgun and he cocks it before agreeing to come talk to him? like, fuuuuuuuck these movies are straight??? also, straight people: y’all weird. sorry.

so, ok, this is sounding much more negative than my previous review even though i probably like this movie slightly better than the first one, so let’s get back to me being a little belligerently defensive of these movies. specifically: leave bella fucking alone.

i am just so goddessdamn tired of hearing about how bella “doesn’t have a personality” and how she’s “weak” and how she’s “totally dependent on edward.” enough! bella is actually a really, really fucking good character and you can all just fuck off already? the way she deals with her breakup with edward in this is super, super unhealthy but also their relationship is super, super unhealthy and i think the way people talk about this in a way that always makes it sound like bella was the fucked up one is just pretty… telling. bella is a teenage girl that is still figuring her shit out. edward is a century-old vampire who has some pretty fucked up ways of looking at the world and treating people. this shit is on him, y’all. for all of his b.s. posturing about wanting to “protect” bella, especially from himself, he does absofuckinglutely nothing to protect her, especially from himself. he plays with her emotions, he manipulates her… he never never, never does the right fucking thing. i’m sorry, but this is entirely on him, and while her reaction to the breakup might be more than a little over the top bella acts fucking admirably for the most part.

to the charge that bella “isn’t a character,” well… the books help, certainly. like. in the books she just has such a very present personality. basically, she’s a huge dork and i fucking love that and relate to it super, super hard. and that isn’t projection or her being an empty vessel or however the fuck we’re describing it these days. she’s just… genuinely a good person and kind of a dork? that’s a pretty fucking great character? sorry. (she is super straight, but no one’s perfect.)

even in the movies, bella has so many little moments that show what a strong person she is. even in this one, when she’s pretty emotionally fucked up. how about when she goes to see alice, jacob warns her she’s “about to cross a line” and she fires right back “don’t draw one.” when things between edward and jacob are about to come to blows (ugh), she places herself between them and says they can’t hurt each other without hurting her and it totally diffuses the situation. and like, i’m not going to pretend for a single fucking second that either of these assholes deserve her to put herself in the line of fire like that??? but i relate to the instinct to do so so, so strongly? bella doesn’t have any problem asserting herself and i kind of love that? and she’s just not at all “not a character.” so just fuck off with that, ok?

anyway, this is all getting very serious, but these books/movies are juvenile fantasies and they have some fucked up shit in them but it’s kind of whatever? we don’t exactly need a fine-tooth comb to go through other, similarly popular franchises marketed towards boys to find their problematic elements. (violent, toxic masculinity? militarism? nationalism? just a few wild, general guesses.) so like, let’s just calm the fuck down a little, ok?

another thing i loved vv much about this one because i’m me so of course i did was that one evil vampire guy (i’m not looking up his name sorry) being surprised the cullens left bella unprotected and asking “weren’t you sort of a… pet of theirs?” y’know, hard to imagine why that could appeal to me at all, right? right. totally.

i also really love the song “hearing damage” that was used during the scene when they were trying to hunt down victoria and even though she’s clearly evil i honestly totally, totally love victoria? like, omgoddess, she’s just so graceful and pretty and powerful??? her presence is just incredible.

anyway, while i’m back to kind of just totally not taking these books/movies too seriously, can i just say that this movie is absolutely drenched in alice/bella shippiness and (sorry to be a huge hypocrite about the difference in edward and bella’s ages but…) i’m kinda super, super here for it? y’know what, let’s just talk about some of the blatantly obvious ways that this movie is pro-alice/bella.

  • alice gives bella a dress for her birthday and tells her “you’re gonna wear it tonight. our place.” it’s not nearly as bossy as that makes it sound because alice can see the future and she’s telling her that she sees it happening, but like, omgosh, the way it sounds?
  • bella is just constantly emailing alice about what’s going on in her life even though she knows alice isn’t getting them. it’s like writing letters and it’s just super, super intimate. and the very first one is like just… blatantly a letter about how she loves her and misses her if you take out like literally a sentence about edward.
  • when bella saw carlisle’s car in her driveway you just knew it was gonna be Alice waiting for her, right? and that fucking look of relief on both of their faces and that hug??? sorry i’m gay and weak.
  • bella adopts her customary passenger seat when alice drives, so that’s basically bottoming for her, right? and alice driving her around in a porsche they stole together (they stole a car together, be gay do crimes!!) is way sexier than edward driving her around in his… uh… i don’t know enough about cars to remember what it is, silver luxury car?
  • unlike fucking edward, alice constantly expresses a willingness to give bella what she wants, re: becoming a vampire. she respects her choices, and that those choices are hers to make. And they aren’t just words? she votes yes when bella puts it up to a vote. not only that, but she offers to change her herself! that seems pretty intimate, yes?

in conclusion, lesbian vampires > straight vampires. but even though these books/movies couldn’t quite see their way to that, i still fucking love them for the trashy emotion porn fun they are. just… let people like things, ok?

(b-rank)

eclipse

[a/n: this is super out of date considering i’m engaged now lmao, also i keep saying “girl” because i thought i was a lesbian at the time, just roll with it]

i have complicated feelings about marriage? it used to be something i really, really wanted. most of the fanfiction i wrote heavily featured marriages and romance in general. it just felt like where life was supposed to take you, you know? and i’ve since been educated about the fact that it’s a patriarchal institution and not really something that should be a goal of mine, and even if it were a goal of mine it wouldn’t be an attainable one. and like, i’ve basically accepted that and it’s not something i’m really actively seeking or desiring anymore and yet…

really, really well-done engagement scenes absolutely fucking emotionally destroy me. because regardless of whether it’s something i’m actively pursuing anymore, it is something that i wanted so much for the longest time. i actually imagined being proposed to and being a bride long before i figured out i wasn’t a cis boy. i know, i know, i was the dumbest egg ever. but like. it’s something that clearly still carries a lot of emotional resonance with me regardless of how my views of it have changed? anyway, the engagement scene in this isn’t exceptional or anything and it’s between two characters who really, really shouldn’t be married but like… it still tugs on my heartstrings a little a lot? like, goddess, imagine someone wanting you that much. i mean, probably imagine them not being a shitty person like edward. but like.

idk. these are sort of just feelings? there’s no particular direction to them. just… i did recently see an engagement scene in brooklyn nine nine that was much, much better and it actually reduced me to tears.

i don’t know. maybe someday i’ll fall in love with a girl who does actually want me to be her wife? which is complicated because like clearly i’m poly as fuck and also i really do genuinely think marriage as an institution probably isn’t that great and probably is mostly there to enforce values i abhor, but like… it would also be really, really easy to get me to agree to be the right girl’s bride? because it was something i wanted so badly for so long. and because there is clearly still a lot of emotional resonance there for me, regardless of how my views have evolved over the years.

i cried when marriage equality was won. i cried because, even though it was mostly a white middle-class thing, even though it was no longer a goal that i felt like applied specifically to me, even though i worried that it was going to lead to people taking their foot off the gas (and i think it did btw), it just felt like such a cathartic moment all the same. i cried because i knew it didn’t apply to me and part of me still wanted it to apply to me. i’m probably not ever gonna get married and that’s honestly fine. but just. i don’t know. no matter how i feel about weddings or marriage as an institution, part of me is just always going to be the little [enby] who cries every time two characters who really deserve it have a super romantic proposal scene. i don’t know.

the proposal scene in this movie isn’t great but it’s good enough to make me feel things. it isn’t between two characters that i think should be having any such scene, but that’s fine. edward is still a toxic, controlling motherfucker who hides things from bella after learning in the past two movies that that’s not only a shitty thing to do, it’s a bad idea. he justifies this by saying shit like “i trust you, i don’t trust him,” which is the shitty half-logic of a manipulative, controlling asshole of a boyfriend. jacob is also a bastard. this movie makes him look great because he comes remotely close to treating bella like a human being, but it’s for his own shitty reasons and then he gets all angsty about being “friendzoned” and we’re back to square one.

there is still less genuine uncomfortableness in this movie than the previous two??? i know, i know: why the fuck do i like these movies. i wish i could tell you. also, i know, i know: i’m spending way more time talking about feelings that have a tangential relationship to the movie than i am about the movie. sorry?

victoria didn’t get to be much of a badass in this one and i feel kinda bad about that. she deserved better. she coulda been a great villain.

i really don’t think i want to get married and even if i do it probably isn’t ever going to be a realistic possibility for me? but like. maybe i do? i don’t know. it probably doesn’t matter, though.

(b-rank)

breaking dawn: part 1

ok, like. i should really hate this for so, so many reasons? breaking dawn was by far my least favorite twilight novel. like. by far. like. it was the only one i genuinely didn’t like? and i really, really didn’t like it?

also like. i do not like children and i have never wanted children. unlike my “i have very complicated feelings???” hysterics about marriage feelings about eclipse, i have very uncomplicated feelings about children? i do not want them. at all. never have.

beyond any visceral disinterest (… that sure is a rare combination of adjective and noun), the way this movie and the book it’s based on treats pregnancy is just… wrong??? like, holy shit? bella refusing to give her own safety primacy in this case is a choice that an individual can certainly make, but that isn’t what’s happening here? we’re telling a story? we’re choosing that for her? and choosing to present that image to young women? that this is an admirable thing to do? and just… not remarking on it at all? not dealing with the social contexts and severely fucked up values this intersects with at fucking all? it’s just… wrong.

it’s also very, very fanfiction.

this sort of writing & thinking feels very familiar to me because these books and movies are emotion porn. they handle emotions very, very poorly. but there are just so many emotions in them and it just stays so infuriatingly compelling.

it’s not even just bella wanting to sacrifice herself for her unborn child. people are willing to kill each other over some sort of blood feud and treaty involving werewolves and vampires. importantly, this pretty much never happens in these movies, but they make damn sure you know they’re willing to fight to the death over this stuff. more than once, edward threatens suicide if bella dies. it’s pretty fucked up. it’s big, loud emotions. everything is screaming “consequences! consequences!!! consequences!!!” even though those consequences almost uniformly fail to come to pass.

this is fanfiction storytelling.

and that’s ok.

it’s ok because if i were taking any of this completely seriously, oh my goddesses is it ever disturbing. if i took this completely seriously, it would be basically unwatchable.

it’s fine, though.

i actually think it might be the best one? i haven’t actually ever seen the next one yet, so that’ll be exciting. it’ll be an experience.

all of these have been.

(b-rank)

breaking dawn: part 2

i’m sorry, i couldn’t come up with any sort of blatant diary entry masquerading as a movie review for y’all for this one. i could try to make something up about relating to bella because she finally gets to be a goddessdamn vampire and i’m over here finally seeing a lot of very visible changes on hrt, but nah. i got nothing.

i really, really don’t like the cgi baby? i didn’t actually think it was possible for me to be any more disturbed by the jacob imprinting on renesme (… what a fucking name) thing but then the last scene of the movie happened and uhhhh wowwwww holy shit though?????

breaking dawn the book got quite a few “are u fucking kidding me???”s from me, but apart from that last scene with bella and edward and jacob and renesme (… we’re still sure that’s her name? ok), the movie really didn’t get nearly as many. and that “here’s what woulda happened!!!” huge-ass fight scene made the entire movie worth it, honestly.

this really, really didn’t need to be split into two movies, though. like. at all.

anyway, blah blah blah, love conquers all i guess. (especially if you’re a vampire.)

(b-rank)


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