The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (review)

Children of the Night

The sparkly vampire guy and the shirtless werewolf guy, they’re still fighting over perfect, perfect Bella, whose perfection extends to a delicate and supposedly adorable feminine idiocy that is incapable not merely of choosing one of the damn supernatural dudes already and putting us all out of our misery, but even of knowing her own mind and her own desires. She may think she knows what she wants, but she doesn’t really, the boyfolk assure her. The lads know what’s best for her and will decide her future for her.
This is what passes for romance in the early 21st century: a sexless, passionless tug-of-war among children. I can just about understand why very young teenaged girls might find the Twilight nonsense appealing, for even though it is badly written and populated by characters that can barely be called “characters,” never mind “people,” it does touch on female adolescent angst about sex that pop culture rarely broaches (while male adolescent angst about sex appears to be the dominant pop-culture theme of our time). But I’m appalled and mystified by the apparent huge numbers of seemingly adult women who find this romantic. Because Twilight isn’t about romance, it’s about a childish terror of grownup life.

I didn’t realize during the first Twilight film, nor its sequel, New Moon, but suddenly it smacked me in the face in Eclipse: Edward Cullen, the putative modern Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy all in one sparkly vampire package, is as much a child as Bella Swan, the blank-canvas human teenager he falls in love with. He’s a century-old immortal, he’s richer than God, and he’s not even bound by the clichés of vampirism to avoid sunlight: he could be doing anything and everything fabulous with his endless, privileged life. Traveling the world. Living like a rock star. Anything. What does he choose to do? Attend high school in the rural Pacific Northwest. Where he met Bella, back in the first film, and fell in love with her, for some unknowable reason, and she with him.

At least from her perspective, there was at first the understandable allure of the exotic — the really exotic, in his case — though over the course of now three films, he turns out not to have much to recommend him. Bella (Kristen Stewart: The Runaways, Adventureland) and Edward (Robert Pattinson: Remember Me, Little Ashes) here continue their courtship consisting of mostly, it appears, moping around and kissing a bit, followed by high school graduation. Bella wants to make love with him, which seems like a perfect natural thing to do when two people are, we’re told, this deeply in love. But he keeps demuring: it’s “dangerous,” he insists. If there’s any sort of neat-o vampiric danger to this act, something truly inimical to life and limb, we never learn. And I don’t want to hear that Stephenie Meyer’s novel [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] explains what the danger is: it should be here in the film, if it’s that important. Instead, sex is simply scary in some nebulous, unfathomable way… like when you’re 12 years old and are just starting to grasp what sex is all about.

And anyway, Bella doesn’t really love Edward — she really loves Jacob the Native American werewolf (Taylor Lautner: Valentine’s Day, Cheaper by the Dozen 2). She may insist that Edward is the sexless manchild for her, but Jacob is in love with Bella, Jacob is “exactly right” for Bella, therefore Bella must secretly be in love with Jacob and must actually belong to him. “She’s not sure what she wants,” Jacob insists, and damn if he doesn’t turn out to be right! She’s only a girl anyway, someone to be lied to and controlled by sparkly vampire dudes and shirtless werewolf dudes who only want to “protect” her.

This — plus Jacob’s violent male jealousy, which extends to him wishing Bella dead rather than turned into a vampire — is “romantic.” I find it terrifying.

Far less actually terrifying is the alleged horror content of Eclipse, about a mysterious vampire who is creating an army of newborn vampires in nearby Seattle — newborn vampires being the most vicious, we’re told — in order to wage war on the “peaceful,” non-human-blood-consuming Cullen clan of Forks. (That’s right: Edward won’t even indulge in metaphoric sex with Bella by sucking her blood — he’s even more adamant about that than he is about the nonmetaphoric kind of sex. I truly marvel at the mindset of Stephenie Meyer that she would remove all the subtextual oomph from her fantasy creatures. What good is a vampire who won’t bite you? And what good is a lover who won’t love you?) And then war comes, with the Cullens and the Native werewolves, longtime enemies, teaming up to fight the newborns. All of this, lazily deployed by director David Slade — which is unsurprising after his equally lazy vampire flick 30 Days of Night — seems like an afterthought, way down on the list of Important Things For Eclipse To Cover after voiceovers by Bella to explain what we can plainly see, history lessons about the beef between the vampires and the werewolves, a few Hammer Horror appearances by the vampire aristocrats the Volturi, and one excruciatingly extended sequence that tosses Bella, Edward, and Jacob together on a cold night. This bit is constructed for maximum ridiculousness and maximum male jealousy, and concludes in a long discussion between Edward and Jacob in which they divvy up Bella’s affections.

Slade is bound by Meyer’s novel and Melissa Rosenberg’s slavish screenplay, but he is the same director who gave us the tough and uncompromising look at complex female adolescence that is Hard Candy. You’d think he could have brought something just a little bit wise and a little bit gutsy to Twilight. He doesn’t. Any by the time someone warns that “something terrible is coming,” all I could think was: “Yeah, Breaking Dawn. In two parts.”

Watch The Twilight Saga: Eclipse online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

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