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I wasn’t going to write about the latest installment of the the “Twilight” saga even though I’ve seen it. “Breaking Dawn – Part 1” is one of those films that really destroys one’s faith in human judgement. Not because a director whose filmography ranges from good to enjoyable, and whose films usually have at least one tough-as-nails woman character, would want to have his name attached to something as nauseatingly boring as “Breaking Dawn”. But because reviewers like Manohla Dargis (The New York Times) and David Edelstein (New York Magazine) seemed to love the film. Aghast doesn’t even begin to cover my reaction; to the praise-filled reviews, not the movie. Actually, the movie left me aghast too but I wasn’t going to write about it. The new “Twilight” movie is crap. So what?

Then I was chatting about it with a friend of mine and by the end of the conversation, I’d managed to convince my friend to let me use our Gtalk transcript to write an open letter to Bella and Bill. So here we go. And She Who Really Is Completely Anonymous, thank you.

Dear Bill,

Congratulations on having completed “Breaking Dawn – Part 1”. How do you feel, like Bella whose body explodes in the process of giving birth to her monstrous child or like Jacob who is assaulted by an embarrassing and inappropriate rush of emotion at the sight of this newborn?

Yours sincerely,

Anon.

They Photoshopped the image so that we don't see the bruises on Bella's shoulder in the stills, only in the movie. Except now it just looks like Edward is furious that there aren't any bruises.

Dear Bella,

How do you feel? Recovered? Ready to sink your teeth into the living world? I’m afraid I haven’t read the books that have inspired the film, so I don’t know what lies ahead in your cinematic future. I must also confess that half of me hasn’t seen at least one of the earlier movies but despite that, I glimpsed signs in the first film of the “Twilight” series and I can’t believe no one has said anything after seeing this last one. This is not a love story. It’s a story of abuse, and you know it. There’s half of me that is muttering that I should clarify I don’t mean the viewers who watched the entire film are the ones abused. Please ignore my facetious half because this is serious. At the risk of sounding like Oprah, I know what’s going on with you. I can see all the signs and I know how you feel because I’ve been there.

You feel alone and abandoned by parents, who have failed to support you despite their best efforts. I saw your father, in that tuxedo, rigid with tension because he knows he’s doing the wrong thing by letting you get married at 18. You know and I know that he’s sorry that you can’t turn to him. But it’s too late. How can you tell him everything that Edward has done, everything that has led to you being here? He’d never understand. He’d be horrified. He’d look at you and see a stranger. So you don’t turn to him. You clutch his arm and you fight the panic. You want to get the hell out of there, no matter how pretty the wedding venue is. You don’t want this and just when you think that it’s ok to not want this, that it’s ok to tell your father that they need to make a run for it, there he is. Edward. He knows you — how clumsy you are, how inept, how frail, needy, weak — and still he wants you. He accepts you and that makes you realise this is where you belong. Next to him, with him moulding you, giving you a sense of belonging. Plus, he and his family could hunt you down in a second. Jacob, Mr. Werewolf, may be able to give you some protection but then you’d have to be his girlfriend and being an animal’s girlfriend, let’s face it, doesn’t seem smart. You remember that other woman, the one who is the pack leader’s girlfriend, the woman with scars from clawing on her face. Now that‘s abuse, is what you’re thinking. Much better to stick with the cold-blooded older man than risk that kind of physical violence. Right?

After all, you know what Edward can do. That’s why you walk to the altar. You’ve been with him for some time now. You know that he’s domineering. You know that he’s possessive. You know that he’s just a little bit manic. But he needs you and that’s a great feeling, right? It makes you feel valued, worthwhile. So what if he wants to change the way you dress and if he keeps telling you that you don’t know what you want and that he convinces you to lie to your parents and run away from home? You know him and you know how far he will push you. You also know that he’ll protect you. You’re his. He won’t let the world hurt you, even if it means imprisoning you. He’s doing it for you.

Except, Bella, you never can tell how much worse it’s going to get. You think you do, you think you’ve figured it out, but you don’t. After all, what could have prepared you for the battering that came with sex? This is where you tell me that it wasn’t battering, that he couldn’t help himself, that it was an incredible experience and you can barely remember the pain. Don’t bother. I know because I’ve said those exact same things. And then I’ve made sure my clothes hide my bruises and that my smile never falters. But we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you. But while we’re going off on tangents, do you have a lurking S&M fetish, Bella darling? Is that why you liked looking at the bruises? I have to admit, I think that might be one of the more interesting side effects of my experience with abuse: I love tying people up. It’s difficult to explain that controlling someone doesn’t actually trigger off any conscious memory of being a victim but rather, it gives me a high. Have I shocked you? You might want to try it. But not with Edward. He’ll only use your desires against you and make you feel ashamed. He’s good at that. Remember how he behaved the morning after your, how shall we put it, ‘deflowering’?

Before you could deal with the shock of what your body went through and start processing the pain, there was Edward and look at that, he was apologising. Is this the point where you show me his teary apology as proof of him being a good man? Because then it’s also the point at which I show you how his teeth are gritted in anger, how he’s making you feel guilty for him having hurt you and how by adopting abstinence and a constipated expression, he’s pushing you to beg him to have sex with you. He’s manipulated you to the point where you are asking him to hurt you, you’re seducing him into it. So he seems like a saint and when he ultimately succumbs, when you see the bruises on the morning after, he didn’t do them; you did. You asked for it.

And you think becoming a mother will make it better. It keeps him away from you sexually, that’s true. It also means that he’s caring for you again, instead of keeping you at a distance or making flesh twist and muscles scream in his effort to love you, and that’s lovely, isn’t it? So what if the anxiety of being a mother, of giving birth to a child who could be a monster is killing you from the inside? You want to go through this. You want to shed the skin of that girl with the twitch and the nervous tremble. Having this baby will show how strong you are. It’ll be a birth and a rebirth. You feel the pain and you feel strong, because this is what you think becoming a woman is: feeling pain. Our muscles cramp, we bleed, we tolerate, we suffer, we rise like phoenixes. Month after month, heartbreak after heartbreak, generation after generation.

I hope you and your daughter are very happy together. But my dear Bella, please don’t think all this is normal. That really is the reason I’m writing this letter to you. With your films, you make it seem like being a victim is a good thing, that it’s what a girl should dream of, that it’s romantic to be with a man who abuses you. It’s not. Don’t pretend it is and don’t think it’s over because you’ve had a baby. You may feel like you’ve been reborn — You’re wearing false eyelashes? Good god woman, what are you? A Stepford wife? — and filled with mysterious power but if Edward is like the abusers I know (and he does seem quite typical), the abuse is far from over. I pray your daughter gives you strength. Thank god you had a daughter. I know it scares you because you’re afraid that a daughter will be like you and will have to go through the pain that you’ve suffered. That’s why, while you were pregnant, you kept saying it’s a boy, didn’t you? But daughters are good, Bella. Honestly. Even if it seems like her future has already been written in that Grimm story titled “Red Riding Hood”, we can live in hope that she grows up to live in the Roald Dahl version of the tale.

Take care.

Yours,

Anon.

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11 thoughts on “Breaking Down Breaking Dawn

  1. Wow. Powerful writing…if people were vaguely uncomfortable with the Twilight series before, I’m guessing the latest film will leave them in no doubt of how scary it really is (and not the good scary either)…I read Ebert’s review of the film (‘on heteronormative vampires’ and my stomach was already churning. This may have just pushed me over the edge.

    • Thank you. I’m not so sure about whether people will be uncomfortable though. There’s an incredible amount of care lavished upon convincing the viewer that Bella and Edward act out of love. That’s really what is scary about the movie — that its black, twisted heart is so well disguised.

  2. Oh. My. God. talk about a hysterical over-reaction.

    I couldn’t disagree more with everything you’ve said except that she is definitely too young to get married at 18. But then she does want to turn into a vampire (which is why she is getting married) and besides the authoress is a Mormom, anti-abortion and anti pre-marital sex. So that explains that.

    However from reading the post it seems more like a projection onto the movie

    I think you need to read the book – its written from the point of view of Bella and its about vampires and werewolves. I think to demand it be realistic is really, quite ridiculous.

    • Tin RoofPress, But why can’t the movie be seen on its own? It isn’t totally faithful to the book (remember the business of imprinting? That gets sanitised and becomes Hollywood-friendly.

      I don’t think it’s a question of realism but the connotation. You don’t believe that a fantasy is completely divorced from real psychology, surely? Just take a look at the Twihards and their gushing online to see How real the reactions are to the unreal vampires and werewolves (who incidentally become way more real in a movie).

  3. Sure, the movie can be seen on its own.

    But I think your issue shouldn’t be with Breaking Dawn or the Twilight series, it’s with the entire genre.

    Which is always going to have some element of masochism + the whole Vampires feeding off their lovers thing, so yes a certain degree of abuse is a given. Thats the genre. Thats the entire appeal. (appeals to me definitely, the abuse part especially – does that mean I’d enjoy that in my real life?)

    To take umbrage only now, in the Twilight series, seems a bit belated, given that we’ve had Buffy, True Blood & that other one on TV, to name but a few (god knows many more) where the heroines fall for vampires and have turbulent, some-what dubious relationships.

    I think the difference with Twilight is that the books and the movie actually address this eg: all the characters are very concerned for Bella, the subject of domestic abuse is actually broached. It’s a good device (I think) the authoress has used.

    Most other vamp novels/films e.g True Blood, where the Sookie character admits she gets off on the whole ‘scary-vamp thing’ but the issue is largely pushed to the side. She is I think at one point even accidentally raped (that is also glossed over.)

    So look, it’s a fantasy. As much of a fantasy as a Barbara Cartland is.

    Writing an open letter like she’s a real abuse victim…over-kill. That’s just the genre.

    Besides she’s a vampire now, she won’t care about an open letter, plus she actually gets some cool powers. Cooler than dear Eddies.

    Anyway, I did enjoy this book. It was weird, twisted, veered from the usual Vampire fare (the heroine/hero human never gets ‘turned’, which is getting tedious frankly) and is very different from the first 3 books (dullsville rohna-dohna).

    I’m no Twihard but this one was good. I’ll defend it.

  4. AP, thank you for commenting.

    TRP, you like the book; that’s fine. But if the films are anything like the books, there’s no comparing Sookie Stackhouse or Buffy to Bella. They’re feisty while Bella is … well, she’s not feisty, whatever else she may be. I take your point about the books being fantasy and pulp, and that the genre itself has a little bit of a twist to it, but for me, Twilight does take it to a disturbing realm because there’s an attempt to normalise it, which isn’t what happens in Buffy or True Blood at any rate. (Once again, I’m talking about the films since I haven’t read the books.) I guess it’s a question of what being glossed over is acceptable to the reader.

    I’m most relieved to hear Bella gets some powers. It’s about time. First she had to get manipulated and nearly killed by that blond ponytailed vampire. Then there was her suicidal trip. Now she’s been bashed by Edward and chomped upon by her own child (and Edward, if that delivery seen showed what I thought it showed). To say she’s earned some sparkly magical powers is putting it lightly.

    So far as Bella as the abused is concerned, this is one topic that you and I shall continue to disagree upon, I’m afraid. I don’t think belonging to the unreal or the pop sphere should mean we don’t look for subtext. In fact, to my mind, that’s the stuff whose subtext is particularly important to explore because it’s reaching and making an impact upon a wider range of people.

    • As a geek and nerd I am compelled to respond to the comparison: Both Buffy & Sookie date men who are abusive at various point in both TV & book. One of Sookie’s boyfriends rapes her in the trunk of a car and then tries to eat her, the other manipulates her in various ways (including buying her house so he can walk in without an invite. Like a stalker).

      Buffy dates Spike (bad vampire) and that other gloomy vampire fellow, who also does some weird shit to her, dumps her badly, emotionally mistreats her etc etc – it was all some magical spell curse whatever. Gloss gloss.

      You perceive them as feisty, but the sub-text is equally harsh. If Bella is being abused then so is every other Vampire-heroine-character. In different ways perhaps, but they still are.

      It’s just glossed over better in the other shows/books, thats all. (‘better’ being relative for how you like your masochism/abuse).

      She certainly starts kicking some ass come part 2. I should do PR for this book.

  5. A feminist critique of twilight: Fresh!

    Privilege parading as geekdom: Fun!

    Docked a couple of percentage points for not explicitly including a section on female rape fantasies.

    Rotten Tomatoes would rate this entire reflexive discussion a 68. Me, I’m generous: 71.

    Docked a couple more for incorrectly invoking Grimm. Graded up via the pun (Brothers Grimm qua the adjectival ‘grim’ – awesome).

  6. TRP, there’s no comparing Buffy’s behaviour to Bella. Not only is she a vampire slayer, but the relationships with Spike and Angel are nowhere near as skewed in their power balance as Bella’s is with Edward. Especially with Spike, whom Buffy basically uses for the longest time. Similarly with Sookie. Just having a relationship with a vampire doesn’t make for abuse. It’s the power dynamic conveyed through the storytelling. I don’t agree that there’s a subtext like Bella’s; certainly not in the storytelling seen in the few episodes I’ve seen of both Buffy and True Blood.

    Saptarshi, I’ve no idea what you mean by “incorrectly invoking Grimm”. Red Riding Hood is a folk tale from France, yes but it was first anthologised by the Grimm brothers. So it follows that the Red Riding Hood in popular circulation now should be attributed to the Grimm volume. Glad you approved of the pun.

  7. the earliest printed version was the french one called Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. the grimm version was titled ‘the wolf and seven kids’ and came out later. and it’s more a composite of three little pigs and red riding hood and also didn’t feature the critical red hood.

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