Fans in raptures over dramatic ‘Twilight’ finale
The final ‘Twilight’ film has taken $341 million in its opening weekend, and left teenage audiences gushing with praise. What made this vampire love story such a sensation?
This week is a bittersweet occasion for ‘Twihards’. The new Twilight film has finally arrived, and fans are breathless with praise. ‘The best one of them all,’ one Twitter user said. ‘Absolutely incredibly amazing,’ gushed another.
But with this euphoria comes the bitter knowledge that this is the end. Breaking Dawn: Part 2 is the final instalment in a series that has gathered a following as large and devoted as that of Star Wars. And most of these fans are teenage girls.
What is it about Twilight that teenagers so adore? There is gothic drama, intrigue and plenty of action – at one point in this film, the heroine kills a mountain lion with her teeth and sucks it dry. But above all, Twilight is a tale of teenage love and sexual desire.
Vampires have been associated with sexuality ever since at least 1819, when John Polidori took a feral monster popular in European folklore and reinvented it as a handsome, mysterious nobleman. In Polidori’s The Vampyre, Ruthven easily seduces the innocent women he encounters – then he kills them and drains their blood. The moral is clear: women, beware of suave strangers.
The vampire as a sexual predator became a recurring theme in gothic literature. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the iconic villain hypnotises his virginal victims, rendering them unable to resist his advances.
Today, vampires have evolved from their 19th Century aristocratic roots. But the modern mythology is still thick with sexual metaphors. When Buffy the Vampire Slayer was aired, for instance, many critics saw in it a tale of teenagers grappling with adolescent feelings – though Buffy herself was far removed from the meek and pliant heroines of gothic fiction.
In Twilight, sex is right on the surface. Bella wants to consummate her relationship with Edward, but he refuses, fearing that he will be unable to resist drinking her blood once his passions are aroused. Only once the two are married does he consent – and even then, sex is portrayed as fraught with perils.
Quite right too, many say. Since writers and filmmakers insist on exposing teenagers to sex, they have a duty to warn them of the risks it involves. At a time when the media is swarming with bad examples, the young couple in Twilight are a beacon of responsibility and restraint.
But others worry that these films teach all the wrong lessons. In Twilight, sex is a dark temptation, perilous even in the most stable relationship. That is deeply unhelpful, they say. If young people are to grow up with a healthy attitude, they must be taught to feel comfortable with their sexuality – not to fear it.
- Are Edward and Bella good role models?
- At what age should people be exposed to discussions of sex?
- Write a short story about vampires.
- Pick a vampire you know from a film, book or TV series, and write a character analysis. What do you think she or he represents? What sorts of attitudes does this reveal?
Some People Say...
“I never want to see another vampire film in my life.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Who cares about vampire morality? It’s just a fantasy!
- But fantasies can be very revealing. Bram Stoker’sDracula, for instance, was published when many Eastern Europeans, many of them Jewish, were arriving in the British Isles. Dracula is himself Romanian. Could the story reflect xenophobic anxieties about immigration? Many academics think so.
- But does that actually make any difference to the real world?
- As well as reflecting our attitudes, fiction can also change the way we perceive things. In a recent study, students were given a variety of TV thrillers to watch. Those who were assigned shows with strong heroines, such asBuffy, showed less negative attitudes towards women than viewers of series in which the women were simply victims. Researchers named this the ‘Buffy effect’.
- This name was initially coined to mock obsessive fans of the Twilight series. But those fans have responded by adopting the nickname for themselves.
- John Polidori
- One day in 1816 four English bohemians were staying in a Swiss villa. Since it was raining outside, the company decided to spend the evening telling ghost stories. Three of them were great romantic authors: Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and his soon-to-be wife Mary. The fourth was their friend John Polidori, a physician. In that one evening (or so the story goes) two of the most influential inventions in the horror genre were born: Mary Shelley went on to write Frankenstein, while Polidori created the modern vampire.
- Feral monster
- In Central European folklore, vampires (or ‘strigoi’) were the reawakened bodies of people who had been evil. They were not smooth, seductive, human-like creatures, but ravening beasts who would maul and devour their victims.
- Once the two are married
- The Twilight films are based on a series of books written by Stephenie Meyer. Meyer is a Mormon, and her religious values are widely thought to have influenced the novels: Twilight is often described as an argument for abstinence.