The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Parts 1 & 2

Did you ever see The Deer Hunter? The classic anti-war film by the criminally underrated Michael Cimino begins with an hour-long wedding. I don’t mean it’s an hour to the characters. I mean the first hour’s runtime is just a wedding. And it’s not a wedding like the one in Melancholia, where there is conflict and tension and emotional arcing. We just watch a nice, pleasant wedding run its entire course in real time.

In that movie, it’s very powerful, because we can see tragedy in their futures. We know they’re going to war. That this is just a meaningless ritual that can’t, and won’t, save the lives of the men who have to leave and die.

In Breaking Dawn, the first hour of the film is similar to The Deer Hunter in that we see, in real time, an entire wedding unfold. However, there is no tragedy at the end of the story. This is not a meaningless ritual designed to convey some sort of fractured America. It’s just a nice, pleasant, extended wedding scene that fulfills the dreams of every little girl’s most ridiculous matrimonial requests.

As I watched the first hour of this four-hour opus (I watched part 1, and, an hour later, saw part 2 in the theater) I was waiting for some sort of tension. For any semblance of conflict. It didn’t come.

When Jacob crashed the party, I was sure that he’d take his shirt off, turn into a wolf, and kill everything in a bloody, triumphant rampage of naked passion. But instead he gave Bella a present and then left.

When the honeymoon on a secluded, beautiful island started, I was sure that some sort of marital conflict would arise. Perhaps they’d fight over which side of the bed to sleep in? Perhaps that vampire on human sex they’ve been building up really was going to kill her?

Nope. The sex is great and everything is fine.

The first ninety minutes of Breaking Dawn (I’m treating it like one long movie) are completely without conflict or tension. It is a little girl’s extended fantasy brought to life by millions and millions of dollars. The first half of the film is essentially a dream-pop music video playing in slow motion that is designed to make marriage look like the most fantastic thing that has ever happened.

But then Bella gets pregnant. Immediately. I mean she has sex one time with Edward and she gives birth less than a month later. And it’s the worst pregnancy of all time. This is when Stephenie Meyer’s moralistic, ethically disturbing tale begins to make a little bit of sense.

All four movies (and by extension, books) are long, drawn-out after-school specials about the perils of teenage sex. Boys are monsters, women aren’t capable of defending themselves or making rational decisions, marriage is the only answer to a long-lasting relationship, you should always pick the traditional man, and pregnancy/childbirth is the worst thing in the universe that nobody should ever experience under any circumstance.

There’s so much body horror in the second hour of this movie that I thought, for a second, that David Cronenberg had directed it. With its lingering, disgusting shots of Bella’s emaciated body contorting and eating itself raw and its loud, uncomfortable labor scene, I honestly felt like I was watching a sequel to The Fly. Only, with less Eric Stoltz.

This movie really doesn’t want teenagers to have sex. And it doesn’t want anybody to ever give birth. The landscape of this series has been kind of fuzzy to me with its messages, and with this final movie I’m even more perplexed as to what Meyer is really trying to tell me.

Her conception of the perfect romance is that of a perfect, 109 year old man courting a 17 year old girl and constantly having to save her life and deny her of that ridiculous sex she keeps asking for. And when she gets pregnant, it’s a life or death situation that culminates in her death and resurrection as a monster.

Decipher that one yourself, Freudians.

Breaking Dawn is directed by Bill “Dreamgirls” Condon, by far the most talented filmmaker of the series, and the cinematography and editing are really, really top notch. Even the acting is better, with Bella managing complete sentences all by herself.

And, admittedly, the final two hours of the film are extremely refreshing. Bella is a (Spoiler alert? If you don’t know already, I doubt you care) vampire now, and that means we don’t have to put up with horrible line delivery or her clumsy attempts to look clumsy. The downside is that everybody in the film, and I mean everybody, is now a perfect, superhuman being capable of anything they desire.

The tension comes from a pretty lazy twist involving miscommunication that makes you wish vampires just used Skype.

They grow up fast, don’t they?

But, in all fairness, it does lead to a genuinely involving battle scene that in no way makes sense in the universe of these films. I’m not complaining. It was nice seeing something other than teenage angst in these things, if only for a fleeting moment.

And the hours spent watching these movies was rendered totally worth it when the audience, full of people born in 1999 (let that one sink in), exploded into applause and shouts of joy as Dakota Fanning was eaten alive by a werewolf.

These movies are long, tedious, ethically dangerous, poorly acted, even more poorly written, beautifully soundtracked, and, dare I say it, kind of fun.

They’re essential viewing as a study in sociology. They are cultural artifacts that, thirty years from now, nobody will be able to explain. Like the Death Wish movies.

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