All has been leading to this moment. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), form-fitted in a modern but elegant white wedding dress, walks down the aisle, surrounded by nature. She clutches the arm of her father (Billy Burke), who stays as reserved as he can, although he’s clearly fighting back emotions. Eagerly awaiting her at the altar is her fiancé, the vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who continuously smirks at her gentleman-like in his well-cut tuxedo. We hear little of the preacher, although we do cut back and forth between Bella and Edward’s vows. As they kiss passionately, the camera circles them both, revealing just how lost they are in this one perfect moment – all of the guests, including the entire Cullen clan and Bella’s friends and family, have disappeared. Only when they hear applause do Bella and Edward snap back into reality.
It’s a good thing they’re officially married, because Lord knows the first three Twilight films exhausted the abstinence metaphor. We do get a little more of it in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, namely when Edward takes Bella to a private island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro for their honeymoon; he carries her over the threshold into a luxurious beachside cabin, and after skinny dipping in the moonlight, they finally consummate their marriage in the bedroom. They saved themselves for each other, you see, which is in accordance with the Mormon beliefs of Stephenie Meyer, author of the original books. Bella is all smiles when she wakes up the next morning, although she’s shocked to discover that the bed has been nearly destroyed. Later on, she discovers bruises all over her body. Edward feels terrible. Bella could have told him that this happens to lots of vampires, but then again, she would have no way of knowing. Neither, for that matter, would he.
The sermonizing will officially end when Edward finally bites Bella and transforms her into a vampire, which up until now has gone against his moral code. But keep in mind that this story has been split into two chapters – I suspect because it was done so successfully with the last installment of the Harry Potter franchise. For now, we shift gears and venture into far more controversial territory, namely abortion. On their honeymoon, Bella discovers that she’s pregnant. This would be impossible under ordinary circumstances, but because her child is half vampire, it gestates at an alarming rate. By the time the newlyweds return to the Cullens’ Washington home, Bella’s health has drastically declined. The baby is literally destroying her from the inside out. Bones break. Vital nutrients are depleted. As her stomach expands, the rest of her body becomes sallow and emaciated.
This sparks a debate. Some of the Cullens refer to it as a fetus while others stress that it’s a baby. Some, including Edward, believe the pregnancy should be terminated. Others, including Bella, cannot bear the thought of ending a life. This didactic argument is complicated by the arrival of the hotheaded teen wolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who knew that Edward’s vampire strength might have killed Bella in the bedroom – and yes, I am suppressing giggles right now. The leader of Jacob’s pack plans on murdering Bella’s unborn child, for he believes it to be a threat. Exactly why he feels this way is not adequately explained, but admittedly, I never bothered to familiarize myself with Meyers’ books or even with the movies, so I’m sure I missed something along the way. Whatever the reason, Jacob must learn to put his hatred of the Cullens aside if he’s to save Bella from canine carnage.
Breaking Dawn is like all of the Twilight movies in that it’s not very good. What surprises me is that my reasons for disliking it don’t reflect my feelings for the other films. If anything, I’ve come to expect the soapy melodrama, the excessive length, the unreasonable pacing, the strained performances, and the preachy subtexts. What I wasn’t prepared for was the inconsistency in tone, the film shifting wildly from inappropriate humor to overwhelming solemnity. The latter is reserved mostly for later scenes, which are surprisingly disturbing given the context of the story. For the first time watching a Twilight movie, I was actually unsettled by some of the imagery.
The film was directed by Bill Condon, who wrote the screenplay for Chicago and was both writer and director of Dreamgirls. Given this history, I would expect him to have a much better ear for music. I’m not referring to Carter Burwell’s score; the incidental soundtrack is a collection of alternative rock songs, all of which are thematically and structurally inconsistent with the scenes they’re paired with. He said in a 2010 interview with Mania.com that he was “very excited to get the chance to bring the climax of this saga to life onscreen,” but considering some of the other films he has directed, including Kinsey and Gods and Monsters, I have a sneaking suspicion that his attachment to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 was strictly for hire. Perhaps I’ll feel differently once Part 2 is released next November. Then again, perhaps I won’t.
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