The Ingredients is a column devoted to breaking down the components of a new film release with some focus on influential movies that came before. As always, these posts look at the entire plots of films and so include SPOILERS.
By the end of Breaking Dawn — Part 2, it’s clear that the Twilight Saga, as one long story about vampires, werewolves and a chaste teenage girl, is first and foremost a romance picture. This may not sound like a revelation, but in the past four years we’ve all looked at the series in terms of how it transcends the traditional “chick flick” ghetto to dabble in elements of superhero and horror genres, potentially wooing male moviegoers in the process. Interestingly enough, the finale features a sequence that is very much aimed at fans of genre cinema just before pulling a 180 and concluding with an ending that the same audience will find mushy and sappy as (their personal) hell.
While romance figures into most film genres and even dominates the conventional Hollywood denouement for movies no matter what audience is targeted, most of these features are not classifiably romance pictures. The love stories are secondary or even tertiary in importance to plots primarily concerned with adventure or disaster or some treatment of good versus evil. And although there are antagonists strewn throughout the Twilight films, there aren’t really good guys and bad guys in proper terms. Instead there is simply love and family versus threat to love and family. And the protagonist is a protector rather than an active heroine.
Even Titanic, a blockbuster phenomenon celebrated for bringing male and female audiences together, is more a disaster movie than a romance picture. All the comparisons between James Cameron’s historical epic and the Twilight films are dismissible for their major difference. Titanic teases us with the promise of a love greater than anything and pulls it away with the tragic conclusion, while ultimately Twilight — in BD2 — teases us with a surprisingly gruesome battle reminiscent of an X-Men climax before literally erasing it as having never happened and delivering in its place a happy ending centered on the notion that all of the saga was about a love to last an eternity (it’s the second film of the year with a fake-out ending, but I won’t name the other out of respect to those who haven’t seen it).
As cultural critic Slavoj Zizek argues in the new documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, the true statement of Titanic is that the sinking of the ship is less of a cataclysmic disaster than the class-defying relationship of Jack and Rose would have been had it continued, that the iceberg was a sort of course-correcting tool used by the universe to avert a worse fate for all. If only, like in BD2, we could have seen that possible future before having it ripped away (see also 25th Hour and Donnie Darko for similar ideas). It does, however, have the tacked on pretend happy-ending sequence to appease audiences in a way that’s relative to the pretend action sequence of BD2.
So what is the true statement of the Twilight Saga? If it was only concerned with the love of Bella and Edward, it would have ended with their wedding. And if it was only concerned with the concept of the family being the big goal in life, it could have finished with the birth of Renesmee and survival of Bella at the end of Breaking Dawn — Part 1. What comes through with the final chapter is kind of a feature-length epilogue, Nativity-like in the way it shows the miracle of Renesmee to witnesses — these foreign vampire visitors very Disneyish in their globally representative “It’s a Small World” appearances and Snow White-like cartoon-animals-of-the-forest convergence.
Yet strangely, like an inverse of most Christ-figure stories, we end with the acceptance of “the one” in a normal-izing sense, not the savior/threat she initially seems to be from good/evil perspectives. That doesn’t mean Renesmee is an anti-Christ figure, although it should be noted that the original vampire icon, Dracula, is typically thought of as an “antichrist” in terms of his narrative path being opposite to that of Jesus’s (rather than him being viewed as akin to the Biblical opponent of Christ). I wonder if Stephenie Meyer had any of this in mind when plotting her books. I also wonder if there is much precedent to the notion of a reversal of the hero plot or if there’s more originality to the Twilight Saga than it’s given credit.