Thursday, December 15, 2011

"These Bad Boys Mean Business" - TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN Vs. FACING EVIL with Candice DeLong

 The real life Clarice Starling, Candice DeLong (above) was a high profile FBI profiler for 20 years. Seeing her on Investigative Discovery's Deadly Women and Facing Evil (Friday nights!) is to see a still button-cute but steely-eyed brunette whose brittle but compassionate demeanor is tried and tested in the forge of crime solving, poring over testimony and evidence against, and motives of, homicidal women. Interviewing them on on death row in a style as intimate as a Barbara Walters, Delong guides their story from childhood to the moment the trigger is pulled or knife inserted and sanity left behind. Before that moment they were just normal people but once the first shot is fired or cut is made, their whole world--and that of their victim--has now forever changed. So here they are, in jail for life. And it's all because they let a man (almost always) blur their own private line between good and evil.

Facing Evil
Their stories follow a general similarity of a vulnerable woman and a predatory, usually older schemer. On the surface, this undeniable facet of our modern mediated life validates some of the feminist concerns about the Twilight series --that it glamorizes abusive relationships, encourages dependence on older men and encourages leaving conventional reality behind for the fascist bubble that love and submission create. And once you switch --get bitten or bite as it were --there's no going back.

In this fourth film, Breaking Dawn Part 1, Edward tells a story of his days hunting and drinking the blood of 'molesters' (before he became a 'vegan' - drinking only animals). A flashback to a London screening of Bride of Frankenstein (1935) cements him to a lineage that dates back to the first big wave of Universal horror films, offering a kind of hatchet burying with classic horror fans for whom Twilight is an embarrassing abomination scarcely deserving of its horror genre keywords. He tells Bella this story perhaps implying that his kind are in a sense, truly evil, in that they are predatory against humans. Whether they curb their habits, only drink bad guys (like Dexter or Anne Parillaud in Innocent Blood), or only hunt deer, they're still evil, i.e. sociopaths. Maybe that's the true difference between staying out of jail in civilization and survival in the wilderness. Predatory instincts ensure the latter, but the sharper one's skills in the latter they are the harder becomes the former. For a killer not to kill, it's like me not killing whiskey bottles... a crime against nature.

It's on this tenet, however, that the romance in Twilight works (way better than just the guilt mongering of Anne Rice). A romantic fantasy animus (demon lover)  like Edward in the Twilight series and a real life (young handsome male) murderer are, based on this tenet, indistinguishable. Like sending love letters to Richard Ramirez or Ted Bundy--the thrill of bad boy danger tempered is by the impossibility of their release--the saga of Bella and Edward is similarly based on thrills and danger welded to 'safety' (he protects her and keeps his urges in check) and denial (he has no sex organs or corporeal presence): there's no nagging wife to dispose of first, but there are... other things... that make their story conflate with the prison nurse who shot a guard to help her bad boy escape, over which comes DeLong's memorable words (approx.) about the nurse's love for hot prison guys in their interview: "You liked the bad boys. But these bad boys mean business."

I love the first three Twilight films (well, let's just say, I'm at least 'fascinated' by them) but Breaking Dawn is a huge let-down, like what might happen if Ramirez finally got out of jail to marry one of his pen pals, and he turned out to be old and bald and fat and a convert to Christianity. The problems with Breaking Dawn aren't as bad as that, but herewith are summed up in the three M's: Maturity, Martyrdom, and Music, and the one saving grace against all three-- Disillusionment:

1. Music: Instead of Carter Burwell's trippy electric guitar in the first film or the nearly nonstop flow of emotional sadcore songs that ran like a nightmare chorus through the next two, we get a lot of listless minor key piano that occasionally breaks for tired croons from Christina Perri and Bruno Mars. Blechh. Part of what drew me to the first three films was the way the music stirred long dormant druggy love vibes inn the blood, the kind of deep sense of thrilled longing that Bella Swan clearly felt moping around in her bedroom. When the pop songs finally sneak into this fourth installment, they all sound the same--lots of flat tweedy male neo-folk harmonies-- and lack any kind of legitimate sadness, except in the most perfunctory of Urban Outfitters Americana hipster harmony kind of way. The first songs were chosen for mood - these are chosen--I don't doubt--for corporate synergy.

 2. Maturity: Whenever a teen series moves out of high school and into marriage you know you're headed for trouble and that's why I maybe forgive Dawn a little bit more than I forgave, say, season four of Buffy. The theater I saw Dawn in was freezing cold (broken heater) and that made the extended, strange marriage ceremony both better and worse: time slowed, half the ceiling was dripping and exposed, presumably from a burst pipe; the cherry blossoms onscreen seemed made of ice, and the dream of the 'death-size' wedding cake froze my blood, literally. For a second I had a sense of overwhelming fear that Bella was already dead and marrying Edward be like the scary climax of Psychomania! And I was dead, too.

And of course the cast is in real life maturing all the while, and though the year/s since the last film have been kind to Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner: posture and facial feature definition and a sense of gravitas are all up several points, Pattinson just seems washed out like he's being overly CGI airbrushed like Courtney Cox in Scream IV.

Still, in general they have all avoided the pasty hungover look that dogged the aging Harry Potter gang, and I loved the awesome selection of fully sketched-out 'relatives' of the Cullen clan at the wedding, all gorgeous and interesting and probably worthy of spin-off films. Their glowing eyes and Goth-but not too Goth-off-white dresses made me desperately want to be at that wedding, and made me think I already had in weird 'teenage dream I still remember fondly' kind of way.

Break: If you're still unclear why/how this series is so popular, let's examine the still below:

Note the purple and violet color coordination that's been the key behind the luscious art design since the first film, and the way these two cute vampires fuss, with their centuries of beauty tip expertise, over this 18 year-old slacker with her hunched over posture and vaguely mannish profile. As a viewer your identification locus moves in three directions if you study the picture, mirroring the three components of consciousness:

   1) Bella: cute but frail and human, easily-led (ego)
   2) Vampire helpers: examining our human weakness from their superior position (super ego)
   3) The Gaze / mirroring / metatextual subjective position : the unborn child's free-floating ghost, eying Bella's womb like a tired wanderer eyes a warm, toasty Motel 6 (id)

In a sense, it's perfect just as it is, this preparations for the wedding. There's nowhere to go but down. After a certain point no amount of stalling and pretty baubles and nice scenery will help when it's down to you, it all comes down / to you / in your nakedness; facing the end point of desire's long trip down the river Niagara, when the three aspects of consciousness are forced to face the three unconscious aspects, the sides of self you never even knew were there, the ones hiding at the bottom of the lake, like evil sea wolves!

3. Disillusionment: That said, Jacob (Taylor Lautner) shows up and steals the film halfway through the wedding reception, bursting with lycanthropic life, sweeping Bella off her feet and right away from the paler-than-the-wedding-cake groom. Jacob's derisive scoffing that her and Edward's honeymoon will be a sad sick joke-- his incredulity that Edward 'hasn't told her yet,' --implies some massive sterile impotence on the part of all vampires that makes the 'waiting til they're married to have sex' aspect suddenly seem like a sad con job. Once that ring is on her finger, the fact that this Ken doll has only a plastic absence in his pants will no longer be something she can protest about.

Sure enough, after this long beautiful wedding scene and lengthy travelogue to this exotic secret honeymoon location we in the audience are as as jet-lagged as Bella (and frozen to death in an unheated cineplex). We'd been expecting some serious fireworks, and instead Edward drags her down to the middle of nowhere, just to be by the beach, and feebly tries to humiliate her because she's not mad enough at him for leaving her bruised up from the roughness of his, how you say? lovemaking? Ah yesss.

In the film's best scene she looks down at him while he sits on the smashed up marital bed, not a gentlemen of vamping anymore but a self-sabotaging undead toad, a loser with weird teeth who's spent three films postponing this inevitable de-pantsing because he is, 'ow you say? A fraud, like all ze Kens!

 Thus we come to the realization that those people who wait to get married before fucking are perhaps either terrified they'll be terrible at it or else completely oblivious to the tenets of Lacanian psychoanalysis and/or Buddhism. Having sex before marriage is like getting your head out of the clouds and into the dust and grime of who's turn it is to do the dishes; the longer you stay in the virgin white clouds the more your sink fills up until the dishes are so dirty and so numerous that you can't even find the sink, or the soap... and you run from that sink, don't you, Bella? But now you're chained to it!

So while Bella and Edward's flatline honeymoon is not what we want to see it's what needs to be seen for the film to have a larger meaning than just button-nosed girl promise ring erotica. Rather than giving us the trite softcore displays of conspicuous enjoyment we only think we want to see and which would, in the Lacanian sense, collapse both Bella's and our own identification construct, they give us the truth, the awareness, the realization that the whole grand mythic aspect of their love would be lost if a happy-ever-after truly arrived. As long as she's miserable we can still safely identify with Bella and enjoy her squirming from our hidden masochistic perspective. Once she's 'well laid' as it were, she becomes no longer our misery-loving company but a threat to our enjoyment. We are, in other words, the cockblocking DUFF.

 A key moment is at the Rio airport where Edward makes arrangements with a Brazilian pilot for a private jet home because he's learned she's pregnant... with a demon baby! The impression Edward creates as such a hip, rich, happenin' dude in his cargo shorts (he can speak fluent Portuguese!) is denuded by the nonplussed way Bella regards the whole thing from her passenger window in the nearby cab. By now, Edward's brand of 'I'll take care of everything' is recognized by her, finally, as mollycoddling. His Victorian/compulsive need to keep her co-dependent is based more on his own insecurity and self-loathing than on any truly chivalrous impulse. So, like the women interviewed by Candice DeLong in Facing Evil, Bella is waking up out of a brainwash by a bad boy.

The thing is, the real time-serving inmates interviewed by Candice are 'made' into killers through this same brainwashing technique. And Bella technically will let Edward make her into a killer (a vampire) but she has chosen it in advance of all his brainwashing; she is drawn to the darkness, and her bad boy actually tries to keep her out of it. It's not the sex of the honeymoon she really wants, for without death, what do you have? Sans petite mort? Vous n'avez rien!

4) Martyrdom - Bella indirectly uses martyrdom--the oppressed feminine's ultimate trump card-- to force Edward into finally letting her become the undead wraith she's always longed to be; like Steel Magnolias in reverse! The only way to get Edward to finally turn her, to 'kill her,' is via the pretext of sacrifice, rather than a personal and morbid self interest. Of course it's annoying that this all has to be in service of a pro-life subtext, but, if you follow the 3rd wave feminism all the way down to the twisted roots you'll see it drinking heavily from the abject underground stream of pregnancy and rough sex--the twin magnets of darkness no amount of feminist rationale can brighten.

So let me ask you this, my Jezebel coterie: If a woman starts out independent and chooses to be overwhelmed by the male other is she betraying her gender, even if its by her own choice? Is she allowed to examine the paradox of being free through surrender? Is she allowed to choose a deeper darkness than even death or prison can contain?

Steel survivor: Won't get fooled again.
Accusations of Twilight being pro-life as a whole are evaded by Edward being so pro-abortion, hating his own semi-dead unborn child (as opposed to the doofus husband from Steel Magnolias for whom the sick wife seems little more than a baby wrapper). Meanwhile Bella's refusal to give up her fetus even as it's killing her is seen as foolhardy by everyone but herself... and part of it isn't just her connection with the child but her wish to die and be reborn as a vampire, which Edward would clearly postpone indefinitely (naturally since once she's turned he will lose his power over her). In other words, her choice is based on her own desire to die, and her connection to her baby, sans any desire to please or obey her man's selfish edicts. So in the end, feminists and pro-choice types alike go snarling back to the Exit of this film, both ill-served by the myth they cautiously hoped to adopt. And those of us who seek genuine subversion recognize it in this very sly Antigone-like renouncement.

It is, after all, only a myth...

But... that's not quite right. Something can be 'only' life, but never 'only' a myth. The danger of ignoring the true nature of the mythic archetypal unconscious--of presuming the mythic dimension has no power other than cheap entertainment--is that you leave your unconscious with no avenue of conscious expression, so it festers in your pressure cooker subconscious until it explodes in sudden violence or bad boy brainwash submission.

 This is a sad, Freudian truth seen all too well through the pale blue eyes of Candice DeLong on Facing Evil. Without an archetypal context by which to recognize the big bad wolf when it came pawing at her basket, the Red Riding Hoods DeLong interviews were easy prey. Maybe they never learned to read, or their dads were fundamentalist zealots who refused to let them hear the story (telling her Red Riding Hood shouldn't be allowed out without a male escort, and the hood should cover her whole face like a burka!), and now they've paid the price. Haters can sneer at it, feminists can rear back and bare fangs, but girls currently immersed in the Twilight world will all grow up knowing how to recognize wolves when they see them. The bad boys they meet will just seem 'sooo fifth grade', only slightly less outre than ponies, or those phallus-free Ken dolls.

But those red riders who don't have a wolf to chase them in their youth can never grow out of the need for one, so they become the wild-eyed deer in the headlights-types that the bad boy wolves can spot from a mile off at any bus depot. Instead of knowing a devil when they see one these mythless runaways are instead themselves are only seen, and sucked... first through lupine head trips, then into murder, then through Candice DeLong's icy vampire eyes and back out into the hell paved by Christendom's good intentions.


  1. There's so much messed up stuff to love about this series of films that most people don't even have a clue about. I happen to like them for all the right reasons, or wrong reasons, whichever one's the funnier.

  2. Thanks Drunk Erik... I agree totally. Bottom line - they're different, and there'll always be a harsh reaction to different.


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