Chin: Why I Still Like Twilight

Teen romance fantasies remind us to celebrate love despite judgment.

by Clara Chin | 1/17/19 2:15am

My inner monologue goes something like this. “Get over it! Twilight came out 10 years ago. Wait — am I really that old?” Yes, Twilight the movie came out in 2008; 10 years, one English major and several French New Extremist films later, and I still am a Twi-hard. I enjoy Claire Denis’ “Trouble Every Day” as much as the next girl, or as much as the next girl who really wants people to know she has “good taste” in films. But there is something to be said for the unrelenting melodrama of a film like “Twilight.” One thing that many feminists and blatant misogynists can agree on is that, put simply, “Twilight” is trash. I do not think “Twilight” is so easy to hate because it is corny; many campy teen or kid flicks are met with little hate, such as the “Harry Potter” series and the television series “The Big Bang Theory.” “Twilight” gets hate because of the way it confronts the reality of emotion. “Twilight” certainly is no feminist rallying call, but the hate it receives makes evident how people (especially women) are stigmatized for embracing their feelings. The growing popularity of auteur culture led to an overvaluing of intellectual control over emotional vulnerability. But pop culture representations of love, in the broadest sense of the word, remind us to forget about being cool; instead, it acknowledges that idealistic emotion can be cheesy and politically problematic, but can bring people together through a now-rare idealism. 

To go back to a term I used earlier, “auteur culture” is essentially the celebration of arthouse film directors who often happen to be male. Think Hitchcock, Godard, Truffaut and, more recently, sex- and violence-obsessed Lars von Trier. While some moviegoers appreciate these directors alongside more straightforwardly emotional and pulpy films, it is much more common for film “snobs” to condemn projects like “Twilight,” “Gossip Girl” and other pop culture media geared toward young women. This is not to say that men do not produce pop culture or that no non-male auteurs exist, but that in many contemporary discussions of film it is easy to think of high culture and low culture in this reductive, binary way. More recent film theorists like Laura Mulvey critique auteur culture and the male gaze for being misogynistic, often celebrating male directors who show violence against women on film. The type of director considered an auteur limits the kinds of films worthy of appreciation, often valuing emotionally removed films over emotionally indulgent ones. It also limits auteur creativity, discouraging art-house filmmakers from inflecting smaller films with technical motifs or references to big-budget emotional films.

One of the worst reasons to dislike “Twilight” is for being “poorly executed” — I actually do not think this is true. While certainly a film that emphasizes marketable value over artistic value, “Twilight” serves its purpose as well-written camp. As of late, films with a pessimistic take on life have been in-vogue for the film community. Yorgos Lanthimos’ Golden Globe-nominated film “The Favourite” portrays a fictionalized triangular relationship between three ruthless women, infamously brutal Gaspar Noé’s “Climax” shows a group of dancers descending into madness and violence during an unexpected drug trip, and ‘auteur’ Lars von Trier’s “The House that Jack Built” shows a mass murderer mutilating his victims, many of them women. Film culture tends to formulate the avant-garde as smart, emotionless and masculine, and popular film as dumb, excessively emotional and feminine — usually showing preference for the latter. But “Twilight” does not aspire to be high-brow, since its very premise is a novel that has accrued a mass following of teenage girl pop-enthusiasts. It embraces its corniness, using phrases like “Even more, I had never meant to love him.” These phrases do not hide behind artistic pretenses, but stand unabashedly in their over-the-top affect. One could argue that anyone could come up with a phrase like this, but it is arguably difficult to use the right syntax and word choice to capture exactly how love feels. And yet comments on reposts of scenes argue that it does just this. In a scene where Bella is depressed after Edward leaves her, reposted on YouTube, user “Sarina Valentina” writes, “Love sickness is real… And serious. Going through it.” The self-aware corniness of “Twilight” makes it unapologetic and intentional, bringing young women together through online forums

Twilight also manages to do camp well by infusing subtly “indie” traits. For instance, the color scheme of “Twilight” is dark, gloomy and blue, similar to indie vampire flicks like previously mentioned Claire Denis’s “Trouble Every Day.” It uses the grunge backdrop of Forks, Washington, and a ’90s grunge-inspired soundtrack complete with Radiohead — keep in mind this is before the ’90s nostalgia trend of the late 2010s. It functions similarly to the more “auteur” show “Twin Peaks” by David Lynch, which infuses soap opera motifs into the weirdness of the avant-garde. Twilight borrows from indie culture to make what would normally be teen melodrama just a little more interesting. Robert Pattinson, known for his wryness, delivers his lines in a way that seem Self-aware. Rather than situate themselves within pop culture, recent “auteurs” often distance themselves from any trace of emotion. The indie marketability of dispassion has caused filmmakers like Lars von Trier to go overboard with violence, as evident by the negative reviews for his most recent film, “The House that Jack Built.”

I will not deny that “Twilight” is blatantly problematic; the premise of “pale” vampires and Native werewolves reeks of simplistic colonial narratives. But I’ll save this deconstruction for another time. Even this problem, as well as the elements of misogyny present in Twilight, are more indicative of American collective anxieties. It is Bella’s relationship with Edward, which she also recognizes as dangerous ( “…And so the lion fell in love with the lamb”) that recognize that desire is not always straightforward. For young feminists and young women of color who aspire to be in control, it may be jarring to fall in love with someone who may pose a threat to their politics. 

Watching “Twilight” is a little like having a crush. It seems silly, but there is also something comforting, idealistic and emotionally rich about it. “Twilight” still matters because it is a reminder of idealism — and that a girl in love is defiant.