Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Man in Black and My Favorite Sparkly Fairy Vampire Princess: in Defense of Comedic Romantic Heroes

Today I went to see New Moon. I would like to go officially on the record at this point to admit that Twilight is wearing a bit thin on me. This comes from Twilight becoming too popular too quickly and for all the wrong reasons. I think I am going to vomit if I see one more magazine cover with the "sexy stars of Twilight" on the front. Twilight was a brilliant comic horror romance starring Bella's motor mouth. She monologues her way through vampires and werewolves all the while being unfazed by any of it, but keeping her eyes focused on her normal teenage girl issues. Twilight would collapse into absurdity the moment it tried to actually be a real love story; the characters cannot stand up to the limelight of being judged by standard fiction logic. This sums up for me why New Moon was at best a mediocre film. The first film had the good sense not to take itself too seriously and could be taken simply for laughs. New Moon crosses that line into trying to be serious, leaving us with over the top acting and way too much angst. This is particularly unfortunate as, of all the books, New Moon is Bella's story; she is off on her own without Edward for most of the book except when she purposely puts herself at risk in order to summon up images of him telling her not to do whatever she is doing.

I went alone as the girl I am now seeing opposes Twilight. I managed to hook the last two women in my life onto Twilight, but no luck in this case. (I still think she is very cool anyway.) She says that Twilight is the one romance that she would never allow her daughter to read. Her reason for this is that she finds Edward Cullen to be emotionally abusive:

Bella is essentially interacting with Edward in a way that exposes her to emotional abuse.  She stays with him, even when he insists on making all her important life choices. And the only time that she disagrees with him is when she is making a foolish, short-sighted decision (e.g. wanting to be turned, not wanting to go to college, etc.).

I do not hold this against her. Firstly because at least she admits that Alice is a great character. Secondly because I do not think she is all that far off. Considering all the teenage girls gushing over Edward and taking him seriously, I would have to admit that the risk of girls taking Edward as a romantic ideal and Bella as a model to follow may be too great. Edward's behavior is problematic and nowhere more so than in New Moon. He abandons her, leaving her in a fit of depression for months. Then, when he comes to believe that she is dead, he tries to commit suicide by angering the vampire mafia, the Volturi. No I would not want my daughter dating Edward, angst ridden sparkly emo vampire fairy princess or not. As a fictional, over the top romantic hero, though, this is fine. I would not want my daughter dating Romeo, with his panache for killing cousins in duels right after the wedding and general suicidal tendencies, either. The ending sequence of New Moon works fine if you are willing to take it for what it is; a spoof of Romeo and Juliet applied to this vampire universe.

I appeal to my favorite comic romance (and hers as well) the Princess Bride. (Many of you will have likely seen the brilliant film adaption of it. I urge you to read the even better novel from which it came. The novel makes fun of Lord of the Rings.) The story involves two lovers Buttercup and Westley. Westley leaves Buttercup to make his fortune, is captured by pirates and assumed dead, only to come to Buttercup's rescue several years later as the Dread Pirate Roberts. When he rescues her he is dressed in black and wearing a black mask. Buttercup does not recognize him, but assumes that he is the man who killed her love. The man in black is rude to spiteful to Buttercup until she pushes him down a ravine and he calls out "as you wish," his old code phrase for "I love you." Buttercups then roles down the hill herself to smother him with kisses. So Westley manages to survive the pirates and become their leader, but he does not bother to send his love a message saying "I am alive and running a successful pirate business." (This is a variation on the classic question about Joseph, who becomes the viceroy of Egypt and goes seven years without sending his father Jacob a note saying "I am fine dad, I was just sold into slavery by my brothers, but things are going pretty good now.") To top this off, Westley acts very coolly to her upon rescuing her, accusing her of abandoning him to marry Prince Humberdinck. We are never told what makes Buttercup so attractive. She spends the entire story in need of being rescued and whining. (Hardly a good feminist role model.) I would not consider this behavior the sort to be imitated. That being said I am willing to accept this as a spoof on the traditional romance, taking romantic troupes and pushing them to over the top extremes. If I wanted to get academic I would say that we are engaged in a feminist deconstruction of the traditional romance, bringing out the latent patriarchy of the genre by taking it to its reductio ad absurdum extreme.

I am willing to accept stories like Twilight and Princess Bride for what they are, comic romances which present over the top love stories with particularly domineering and moody male heroes with love-struck and submissive females with little in the way of actual personality, as long as they stay in their boundaries. The moment any future teenage daughter of mine takes any of this too seriously I think I would need to have a talk with her. (Note that memorizing the entire film of Princess Bride does not consist of taking things too seriously. Rather it is the mark of a healthy childhood and mature taste in movies.) There are fairy tales, fairy vampire princesses with sparkles and then there is real life. Fairy tales are useful as long as they are kept in their place.

1 comment:

Miss S. said...

Yes for sure, Edward Cullen reeks of abuse. However that was a big appeal of the books; that it adeptly mixed wild fantasy (vampires & warewolves) with the very real and faulty world of teenage logic and emotions. This is what made Stephanie Meyer's books stand out; I mean, how many vampire tales had been written before? This series was special because of its flawed protagonist (Bella) and all of the crazy scenarios that resulted from her being obsessed over by a vampire* (*In my own opinion, Edward kindled and was the ongoing impetus in the relationship. New Moon clearly shows that Bella may have been deeply in love with him, but did not have the faith/strength in herself, or the relationship, to really fight for it).

I still don't understand (but am not surprised) at how the movie industry just refuses to leave its pre-set mold. You need to have beautiful, sexy leads; you need to have a pop-soundtrack; you need build a whole counter-culture around it. In the books, Bella was clearly a plain-jane sort of young woman. The type who looks great once you dress her up and put a little make-up on -- but other than that, pretty average. That was a big part of the addiction to Edward; that she was so unworthy/unequal with him, she would be crazy to let go. Taylor Lautner physically fails to evoke any remnant of that, no matter how well she acts. The guy who plays Jacob Black also appears to be a long-shot away from how he was portrayed in the books. That is of course unless they have a lanky, younger-looking version of Jake from his pre-warewolf period.

I haven't seen any of the Twilight movies; mainly because I don't really have an interest in seeing hunky/cute youngins trying to re-create a psychologically complex novel in a 2-hour timeframe. Now there have been movies which have failed to stay true to the books and remained good films in and of themselves (i.e. The Color Purple). However I don't think that the Twilight films have the incentive to be "good films"; they just want to make as much money off the franchise as they can.