Debating the relative artistic merits of the film is as meaningless as reproaching Transformers movies for having too many robots. In spite of the guilty pleasure of the franchise, I do find the deeply conservative politics underlying the romance troubling.
Bella Swan, as embodied by the modestly talented Kristen Stewart, lives for love. She has no interests or passions besides the one she conceives for the mysterious new boy in school. He’s firmly abstinence-only, on account of his uncontrollable urges. The only solution is for her to be married at the age of 18. (If there is one character I truly feel sorry for, it’s her perennially clueless father, who is coerced into consent.)
So, there’s a wedding. Hot vampire sex finally commences—but kept within the constraints of the PG-13 rating. But, of course, the wages of sin and duty are pregnancy and, in short order, death. Bella wants to keep her baby even as it devours her from within. Ruby-eyed Bella will be reborn, subject to thousands of years of Edward’s devotion, or if you like, suffocating, controlling behavior.
Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, is a Mormon mother of three. For me, the dominant ethos of the books and movies is not romance but an agenda evoking the restrictive worldview of the LDS church. The Cullen clan is a vampire mother church that will keep Bella within its cult, smothering it with what its calls love, and what I would call hell.
The experience of attending a film screening is like going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I will admit to howling in concert with the wolves under the full moon. My daughter attended a midnight screening in Manhattan, where half the audience seemed to be rich girls from the Upper East Side, and the other half African Americans from farther uptown. These seemingly disparate demographic groups met at five screens at 86th Street, in a space where teen-girl fantasy—and irony—was allowed free rein, in a community not mediated by either adults or Facebook.
The world of Harry Potter is much more appealing to me. It’s much easier to identify with the primal fight of the Boy Who Lived against the evil of He Who Must Not Be Named. Bella, the Girl Who Lived, doesn’t endure in order to save the world from evil, but, more frighteningly, to keep her unruly desires firmly within the family.