Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Running Time: 122 min.
“Is that what you dream about: becoming a monster?” asks the experienced boy to the inexperienced girl in Twilight. Not just a seduction, that question posed by vampire teenager Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), probes Bella’s (Kristin Stewart) fear of her sexual self. The pop culture phenomenon of Twilight, based on Stephanie Meyer’s hit adolescent literary series, derives from its fascination with erotic awakening—and director Catherine Hardwicke knows exactly what to do with it.
Hardwicke’s rapport with female adolescence was nearly ruined by the naively written Thirteen, but she followed it with Lords of Dogtown, the impassioned skateboarding movie that not only recreated an era but caught the generational shifts of teen culture enthusiasm. For Twilight, Hardwick gets under Bella’s skin. As the new girl at Spartan High School in Forks, Washington, Bella longs to be different and is drawn to the pale, aloof Cullens, foster kids with an eerie cool. Staring back at her, they provoke Bella’s self-conscious identification with the Cullens’ difference and she longs to express what she feels.
Seated next to Ed in biology lab, Bella’s hormones race with her curiosity. Ed’s dark eyebrows, golden-brown eyes and red-wound mouth combine the heartthrob appeal of Elvis Presley with James Dean’s emotional anguish. He, too, is fatally drawn toward wanting to love and devour Bella—a neat twist on male teen sexual erotic compulsion. This post-rock Heathcliff saves Twilight from the salacious use of the occult as in HBO’s rip-off vampire series True Blood (itself based on the Sookie Stackhouse book series by Charlaine Harris) where bloodsuckers provide a metaphor for social prejudice. Twilight’s romantically conceived Cullens perfectly distill puberty’s attraction to fear—they symbolize confused, Brontean sex. Even if girls aren’t reading Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre; they know the vibe. Ed tells Bella, “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin,” but this fantasy isn’t decadent. When Ed reveals himself to Bella, she sees his skin shine like diamond dust. Taking breaths before they kiss, Hardwicke sustains the kids’ romantic expectation. As they lie together in a glade, Ed whispers, “So the lion fell in love with the lamb,” and the entire teenage audience understandably swooned.
Twilight is no sillier than Hellboy or Harry Potter but it’s romantic. Though not campy, it’s less “serious” than the Neil Jordan-Angela Carter erotic fairy tale movie Company of Wolves, but it’s a genuine pop classic. Hardwicke, assisted by Elliott Davis’ vibrant cinematography, creates the aura known from Stevie Nicks’ “Sara” (“Drowning in a sea of love where everyone would love to drown”) as well as the ecstatic danger of ABBA’s “When I Kissed the Teacher”—a ditty that surprisingly goes to everybody’s secret erotic experience and illuminates it to conquer or celebrate it. Horror-movie fans complain that Twilight isn’t bloody enough. But it doesn’t need blood; it’s got ideas.