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.
We can admit there really aren’t a whole lot of films we can find in BD2 or the Twilight Saga as a whole. It’s nothing like the truly Christ-figure-centered Harry Potter series (and now Hunger Games series) or the original Star Wars trilogy. But the Star Wars prequels, which in part may have disappointed fans with such feminization, do have the love story upfront in a way that at times makes it seem more romance picture than space adventure. Like Titanic, though, it concludes with tragedy, the love further non-eternalized later with the lack of a Padme Force ghost. And the continuation of the story through the earlier (later-set) films is essentially about good/evil rather than romantic love.
So, we look to other romance pictures that stuck to concentrating on a love story as opposed to a hero’s journey, and it’s difficult to find any that aren’t compromised with split perspectives. Films that come to mind are Romancing the Stone and its sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, which pay tribute to romance novels in having a female protagonist swept up in an outlandish adventure otherwise dominated by the masculine hero. Those movies, though, tend to follow the hero’s path in a way that is more appealing to a male audience in terms of its action and rugged, rather than sappy, tone.
Similarly, The Princess Bride puts the male at the center of the story, which is why it doesn’t wind up being that bad of a “love story” for the young boy hearing it, even with the occasional kissing. Still, true love is the ultimate drive and goal for the narrative, and all the “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes,” etc. are sort of distractions for the genre fan to unknowingly follow what’s primarily a romance. Not that this was the first film to do this — think also of Buster Keaton’s romance-central action film The General and any movie directly based on The Odyssey — but it’s not so common nowadays.
Of course, the Twilight movies aren’t epically adventurous. Instead their distractions for the genre fan are based in the kinds of genre films more popular today, which likewise aren’t so grand in scope. Outcasts with internal struggles with their distinctly individual super powers are the norm over swashbuckling strongmen. The Saga is very much a romance for today than for all time — which is the way The Princess Bride seems to be, if only because its brand of genre distraction has been around longer in cinema.
But it also may be influencing the ingredients of many followers to come. The Amazing Spider-Man, for instance, puts romance a lot more centrally than most superhero movies even if primarily the story is about a personal conflict rather than romantic pursuit. Perhaps eventually — more likely with a female superhero than male — we’ll see the romance come out all the way in front. How soon, though? We’ll have to wait and see if it takes another 20 years for a fantasy-infused work so focused on romance as The Princess Bride and the Twilight series are to follow their example so successfully.
Also check out our reviews of the Twilight films:
Review: In Regards to Your Movie, ‘Twilight’
Review: The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Review: Twilight: Eclipse
Review: ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1? or, You Don’t Even Know the Half of It
Review: ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2? is a Sparkling Example of Too Little Too Late