twilight: 10 years later
- By Hiram Harrington
Everyone had a Twilight phase.
If you spent your time re-reading the books, fantasising about Edward versus Jacob, you had a Twilight phase. If you spent your time hating Bella’s guts, thinking that vampires that sparkle was the dumbest thing you’d ever heard, surprise, you too had a Twilight phase. Love it or loathe it, Stephenie Meyer’s teen romance saga undoubtedly left its mark on the pop culture mindset. Ten years since the release of the first film, we look back on the impact of werewolves, vampires, and a young woman named Bella Swan.
Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight first hit screens in 2008 following the success of the bestselling book by Stephenie Meyer. It follows the life of high schooler Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) as she moves to live with her father in Forks, Washington. She soon becomes infatuated by mysterious classmate Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) who, as we all know, turns out to be a hundred year old vampire in a 17 year old’s body. The series follows their romantic endeavours and the vying affections of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) a Quileute werewolf who also boasts a passion for Bella.
The first film in the series, Twilight focuses on Bella and Edward’s blossoming relationship. After some light research on her broody classmate’s characteristics, and an iconic confrontation in the woods, Bella discovers that Edward is a mind-reading vampire. They begin dating, despite protests from Edward’s similarly afflicted family who fear retribution from humans. A hunter vampire, James (Cam Gigandet), soon begins to pursue Bella after seeing her with the Cullens. Edward fights to protect his new love, and awakens Bella to the danger of the life she has chosen.
Notoriously, Twilight is ground zero for some of the most questionable acting and dialogue ever witnessed. The film takes home an uneasy 49% on Rotten Tomatoes, holding a weak script based on Meyer’s writing responsible. Sparse and uncharacteristic dialogue for Pattinson’s Edward and genuinely uncomfortable intonation from Stewart’s Bella destroy any hope of these once promising actors compensating for the film’s Achilles Heel. Fans may remember the stomach churning “Hold on, spider-monkey” that Edward murmurs to Bella during the film’s halfway mark.
Kristen Stewart’s reputation was crucified by her turn as Bella. Characterised as emotionless, lethargic, and constantly fidgeting with her hair. It cursed the star’s public image for years to come, one she has only recently rebuilt. Much the same happened with Pattinson, who restricted himself to less blockbuster films and who has fallen out of the public eye. The third wheel on their romantic bicycle, Taylor Lautner’s Jacob, was also plagued by poor direction throughout the series. His role in the first film was thankfully limited though he still remains far outside modern consciousness today.
To say Twilight has strengths would scandalise some, but there is beauty in the film’s design and setting. Washed of extreme colours and bright tones, everything on screen is left grayscale. The shadows are intensified, the light is clouded, and the only time this changes is upon the appearance of blood. It invites the audience to see the world as only vampires do. A world devoid of life, except for the thing that keeps them alive. The bleakness of their surroundings complements the supposedly doomed nature of their relationship evoking much similar sentiments to traditional gothic romance. The film so luckily came at the height of the late 2000s “emo” cultural movement, both of which likely exacerbated the other’s popularity. Things like vampires and forbidden love played heavily into the gothic influenced sensibilities of the genre. Many music acts central to emo were also used on the Twilight soundtrack such as Paramore, Linkin Park, Muse (Who could forget that thunderstorm baseball match?). Tortured lyricism and piercing guitar tracks typified much of Twilight’s appeal to a barely rebellious teen generation.
As a consistently Razzie nominated franchise goes, it’s not nearly as bad as one would remember. I was someone who firmly fell on both sides of the fence at one point in time. I fell in love with the quirkiness of Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene), Edward’s younger sister. I held my breath when James pursued Bella to her old dance studio. I cried as Bella did in the hospital bed when she told Edward she loved him. Then the cool kids in my class began to hate it, and I began to notice how problematic it was that Bella’s life appeared to center on a pointless love triangle. The series past Twilight has sexual assaults that are congratulated rather than punished. It also pushes a distinctly Mormon based romantic agenda. Edward will only have sex with Bella after they are married and Bella refuses an abortion even at grave risk to her own life because it is Edward’s baby. In Twilight, Edward’s symbolic refusal to turn Bella into a vampire mirrors not wanting to take her virginity and ruin her “humanity” as a result.
Looking back, Twilight’s cultural impact has faded. The years since it was released, it was on everyone’s lips. Every vampire series had a throwaway joke about not sparkling, “Still a better love story than Twilight” became the meme of the day, and Paramore’s album sales skyrocketed. It spawned fanfiction, imitators, parodies, and even an entire version of the film recreated in the Sims 2. However, the zeitgeist which it so captured has grown and faded, and those who lived through it would rather forget it. Whether hating Twilight was your phase, or loving it, it’s little more than an embarrassing memory now. However, there’s a case for Twilight as a cult classic.
Twilight doesn’t quite fit the usual definition of a cult classic film: ignored upon release but gained fan following retrospectively. Rather, it’s the complete opposite. Twilight was a blockbuster powered by the love of teenage girls, and soared financially and socially upon its release, but now the film appears lost from any kind of cultural consciousness. The film has the same cringe appeal that The Room does, the same aesthetic value as any Coen Brothers picture. It’s a cultural misogyny that holds it back. Despite decades of weaning out prejudice in cinema, Twilight was loved distinctly by teenagers, and distinctly by teenage girls. It’s a phenomenon on a culture-wide scale that anything revered by women is critically frowned upon and socially shunned, and it appears that’s exactly what happened to Twilight. It was also one of the first major representations of modern Native American communities on film, and brought that culture’s practices into previously ignorant homes. The film is hardly perfect, but the cultural impact it had cannot be denied.
In 2018, I implore you to get your gang together, pop highlighter on your faces, and sit down to an evening of letting yourself be 14 again. Revisit your obsession or your hatred. Who knows? it might just have the same cringey, faux-gothic, painfully romantic magic it did all those years ago.