Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wednesday Reboot: Twilight New Moon

Of all three of the Twilight movies to date, New Moon is easily the most angst filled and the least tolerable.  The film begins on Bella Swan's 18th birthday.  She is upset that she is now older than Edward was at the age that he died because all she can envision is a future in which he stays young and beautiful and she ages. I don't think it was intentional but the idea of old as worthless and undesirable is ageist.  This model privileges youth or at least the appearance of youth at all costs.

At her birthday party, Bella cuts her finger causing Jasper to go into a blood lust. In order to protect her, Edward has to push Bella across the room to keep Jasper away from her, in the process hurting her even more.  When he drops her off that night, clearly the relationship between them is strained.  The next day at school, none of the Cullens are in attendance.  When Bella arrives home that afternoon, Edward is waiting for her.  He tells her that the Cullens are leaving and that she cannot go with them, and thus begins hours of Bella moping.

Even if we take into consideration that when the Cullens left that not only did Bella lose Edward, she lost Alice her friend her reaction was over drawn and ridiculous. Outside of her relationship, Bella has no reason for living, she is completely dependent upon Edward and this is not love, despite being constructed as such.  Bella goes into an extreme depression and then has nightmares in the middle of the night and awakens screaming.  Charlie her father is clearly worried and threatens to send her to live with her mother, if she does not start to come out of it.

Bella goes for a ride on a motorcycle with a shady character and she imagines Edward.  This sets her off on a path to endanger herself as much as possible for the chance to see Edward.  Bella appropriates bikes from the trash, and talks Jacob Black into fixing them up for her.  In the processes, they become very good friends, and so when he stops seeing her after he transitions to a wolf, she is hurt yet again. This tells us that Bella is absolutely incapable of being alone and being happy. Because Bella is already a blank slate, this makes her pain unrelatable and sets up a dependency state as necessary for a woman to be happy.

I have to say that CGI employed for the wolves is absolutely fantastic and every werewolf representation that I see in the genre, I compare it to Twilight.  They are wonderfully huge and it is absolutely believable that they would present a threat to vampires.  Even at home, instead of the big screen, these werewolves are suitably terrifying and real. 

There were many problematic elements in this movie, however; the fault lies with the original text upon which this movie was based.  Let's begin with Emily's scared face.  According to the film, it happened in a moment when Sam lost control, and Emily was standing to close. When we consider the high rates of violence in the Native American community, her injury cannot be taken lightly. Using the supernatural to explain away violence does not erase the fact that Sam was violent and it is a common tactic of urban fantasy. In essence, to be in the vicinity of a werewolf, one must be submissive at all times. At this point there are no female werewolves, though we know that there will be one because she is unable to have children. This framework sets women up to be submissive in all interactions to avoid violence. This reinforces patriarchal gender norms, in which men have the ability to inflict pain for any sort of lack of deference.

Bella experiences the threat of violence first hand when she slaps Paul because she believes that he is harming Jacob in some way. Paul warns her that she should not have done that, and begins to shift. He stalks her in a menacing fashion and the only thing that stops him from hurting Bella is Jacob's intervention. It is notable that though the wolves represent a danger to all women, Bella, the White woman is left unscarred by her interactions with them.

At this point in the series, vampires are White with the exception of Laurent, and werewolves are of colour.  It is telling that the only vampire of color is killed by the werewolves for his desire for Bella and yet Jasper's attack and Edwards own desire is constructed as good, or at the very least benign. When we consider the history of men of colour being understood to be a threat to White womanhood in the form of violence or rape, the summary execution of Laurent basically affirms this fallacy. Jacob does not even consider a woman of colour for a romance and instead privileges Bella and assigns her the role of the most desirable. When we consider that Bella does not have a personality outside of her relationship, one can only assume that Jacob's desire is based on her Whiteness. 

Just as Jacob is drawn to Bella, Bella is only drawn to Jacob as a means of forgetting Edward.  He is only ever a second choice, and at the end of the movie, she tells Jacob that if she is forced to choose between the two of them, that it will be Edward. "It's always been him." This of course not only sets up Bella with Edward, it reestablishes the White male as the natural mate for the White female.  

Bella quickly becomes the prize in a supernatural tug of war between Jacob and Edward.  Because Jacob has laid claim to Bella, he believes that he has the right to tell her that she cannot choose to become a vampire, and that he will be forced to hunt her, as he hunts other vampires.  What is this but a threat of violence for failure to comply?  

The level of emotional angst and the bad acting by Kristen Stewart, makes this one of the least enjoyable movies to date.  Pattinson on the other hand manages to tone down some of the over the top acting in the first movie.  Perhaps he is less irritating simply because he spends less time on film than the first movie.  Taylor Lautner, as Jacob Black actually did well in this movie, because his charm came smiling through, that is when he wasn't busy taking off his shirt.  The view was great, but I couldn't help but notice that the constant undress helped to cast his character as far less civilized than Edward, who mainly stays clothed in suits for most of his time on film.  Once again reinforcing a raced based dynamic to separate the two men.

Again, this is another instance in which I am not surprised that no huge awards were given. Stewart is not likeable enough to fulfill the role of leading lady and her inability to connect with the material is both obvious and at times painful.  If New Moon is Bella's story then we learn that Bella has no story, she exists only to be fought over like a trophy and choose which monster to be submissive to.