You remember, at the very beginning, before the picture is on, it’s a black, dark screen, and then light thrown on. Are we basically not staring into a toilet bowl and waiting for things to reappear out of the toilet? And is the entire magic of a spectacle shown on the screen not a kind of deceptive lure, trying to conceal the fact that we are basically watching shit, as it were? – Slavoj Zizek, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema
I went on a short holiday with a bunch of friends a few years back. One of the Harry Potter novels had just come out and the group split fairly evenly between those who were going to spend the vacation reading it until it ran out of words, and those who were going to, you know, not be antisocial dicks. It was one of the few times in my life when I’d end up on the ‘not an antisocial dick’ side of the spectrum. Little did I know — because I was not the wise and insightful person that I am today — that my friends who were buried in eleventy hundred pages of poorly written and not-at-all-edited garbage were participants in a broader social movement in… I want to say ‘literature’ but that would be a terrible use of that word. Let us call it ‘bookating’. Ideas were no longer lovingly crafted into language by wordsmiths. They were merely put into book form: bookated.
Being a reasonable and rational person, I did try to read the Harry Potter novels. I gave it a fair whack but, alas, I failed to make it all the way through after I came to suspect that I was putting in more effort to read the books than the author and publishing house had put into the art of writing.
When somebody described the Twilight series as no worse than the Harry Potter series, I decided that I wouldn’t even bother. Vampire novels never really did much for me anyway, except maybe that one part of Dracula where Harker ends up with the three vampires in his bedroom… Cough.
But we cannot always live in our ivory towers. Sometimes, we few — we lucky few — who have been privileged enough to spend time with enriching, enchanting literature must engage with pop culture, lest we be considered pretentious or hipsterish.
So I pulled myself away from musing upon Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier and swilling brandy, put on my finest monocle and top hat, and ventured down to the local kinema to view a screening of Twilight: Breaking Dawn, part 2.
One might suggest that it unfair to commence engagement with a franchise at this point. The millions and billions of Twilight fans who will angrily read each sneering word of my commentary will of course find my review ‘floored’ and ‘unfare’ because I don’t understand how significant each flare of Bella’s nostril is to the thematic plot of the series. They might have a point.
On the other hand, to what extent should a film be able to stand on its own? Sure, there might be additional extras for those fans who have adventured with the characters since the first word on the first page of the first book — which, to it’s detriment I’m sure, was neither ‘Rage’ nor ‘Man’ — but isn’t this, fundamentally, a film with a beginning, and end, and — one would hope — a plot?
I must admit that I found the plot quite difficult to follow. This, I feel, was not due to ignorance of the backstory (which, as far as could be ascertained from the goings on in this film, were humdrum and predictable) but because the reactions of the characters to events around them is entirely alien.
Random character 1: We must collect witnesses to prove our case. We will not fight.
Random character 2: Good idea! I will go tell our story to people who were not witnesses to the events in question. They shall be our witnesses!
Random character 3: Yes, but we should fight.
Random character 1: Your reasoning is sound.
It’s like the characters have some kind of ADD which prevents them from maintaining an argument for more than thirty seconds. Bella has given birth to a creepy, creepy CGI baby. One might expect a mother to be quite excited about her newborn baby. Instead, there’s some garbled stuff about people being worried that Bella will eat her child or something, so Bella shrugs it off and goes hunting and, later, bonking.
Because motherhood definitely doesn’t mess up the hunting and bonking schedule of teen mums.
The result is a Bella which, to me, seemed shockingly callous and selfish. The people around her are demonstrating enormous courage and sacrifice, yet Bella remains this petulant, unemotive sociopath throughout the entire film. Her father — distressed, confused, and affectionate — seeks answers from her about her life and his new granddaughter… She coldly plays word games and tells him, in short, that as a teenage mother in love with a vampire, she can decide what information to provide to him.
This level of self absorption cannot be by accident. All of the following happens in the space of five minutes:
Random character: We got you a birthday gift.
Bella: But I’ve stopped ageing.
Random character: But it’s a house.
Bella: Oh. And it’s full of shoes because I am a woman now.
Edward: Yes, another random female stocked your house.
Bella: It has a bed. But I’ve stopped sleeping.
Edward: Yes, it is for sex.
Edward: But now we must leave this place forever because of our newborn baby.
Where the actors lack facial muscles, the casting director lacked cultural sensitivity. A set of Irish vampires rock up in their tweed coats — the father sporting a ginger beard. I don’t recall them having any lines, but I wouldn’t be shocked if ‘T’be sure, t’be sure, t’be sure’ ended up on a cutting room floor somewhere. Eastern European vampires arrive on scene with accents that tour most of Europe and the British Isles. Two scantily clad, darker-skinned women swing out from the trees; Edward introduces them as his Amazonian friends.
I must apologise to the people who were sitting in the theatre with me. Whenever the Amazonian friends appeared, I burst into a fit of giggles.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who found the ordeal ludicrous. Martin Sheen — one of only two people who could act in this film, the other being Christopher Heyerdahl — clearly decided to go balls out crazy during this film. He really wanted to meet Bella’s kid…
But let’s rock back to the start of this review: does it stand up as a film?
Without giving too much away, the film pushes towards a confrontation between the Cullens and their “witnesses” and the bad guys. Over and over again, we’re told what a confrontation this will be and how important the confrontation will be for everybody. In the end, the big confrontation is merely a dream sequence and two people — clearly natives from a barbarian tribe (you could tell by the way they dressed like American Indians from a Spaghetti Western) — come along to say: ‘Oh, wait. There’s no need to fight so don’t fight.’
It is the worst case of cinematic blue balls I have ever had.
I’m used to B-grade television shows pulling the ‘Oh, and it was all a dream’ stunt, but in a movie?
So definitely see this film when it comes out on video. Get sloshed and laugh at the cheesey romantic mutterings — ‘We’re the same temperature now’ was my personal favourite and I shall be sure to say it regularly. Ponder how two people who were IRL in a romantic relationship could struggle to convey what it looks like when two people are in a romantic relationship. Meditate upon the ethics of justifying an adult character forming an intimate relationship with a newborn girl who will reach sexual maturity within seven-days with an appeal to his ‘nature’. And marvel at how far literature has progressed from the days of Homeric poetry to whatever it is that this new frontier of bookinating heralds.