Archive for November 20, 2011

Breaking Dawn Part 1

November 20, 2011

In Breaking Dawn — excuse me, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 — we receive copious data on what befalls a human woman carrying a vampire’s child. The baby will grow at a terrifyingly fast rate, it will monopolize the host body’s nutrients and leave none for the mother, and finally it will break her ribs, pelvis and spine in its short, superhuman stay in the womb. I was reminded of Larry Niven’s deservedly notorious essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” which enumerated the practical reasons why Superman could never enjoy carnal relations with Lois Lane. Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the sparkly vampire betrothed to mopey human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), must have read that essay; he has spent the last three Twilight films worrying that, should he ever fall upon Bella in lust, he would break her, or something. On their wedding night, Edward resolves to be extra super gentle, but in the morning Bella is still tattooed with bruises and the pillows have been all bitten up.

Edward knocks Bella up first time out — way to go, dude! — and Bella, now occupied by a super-baby killing her from within, starts her long, romantic dissipation into death. The Twilight series has been drenched in the peculiar insanity of repression all along, but in Breaking Dawn it reaches a fever pitch. Apparently, even if you do everything right and marry your forbidden boyfriend before you bed him, you will still suffer nightmarishly. Bella, however, doesn’t seem to suffer much, though computer effects render her skeletal; maybe it’s just that Kristen Stewart can’t bestir herself to portray agony any more than she could depict love, anger, sadness, wanting a sandwich, anything. At this point it’s hard to tell whether her blankness in the role owes to shrewdness — intentionally giving teenage female fans a void onto which to project themselves — or simply to boredom with the material. If the latter, she should thank Stephenie Meyer, who penned the Twilight novels, for only writing four instead of seven, like J.K. Rowling.

For long stretches of Breaking Dawn, we could be forgiven for forgetting that Edward is even a vampire; mostly he frets and dithers, resulting in Robert Pattinson’s dullest performance in the series, despite Edward’s finally gaining some physical satisfaction. Bella is slipping away from existence by the minute, and all Edward and his fancy vampire clan on the outskirts of Forks, Washington can think to do is stand around and occasionally offer her a Slurpee cup full of blood. The hot-blooded werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who also loves Bella, takes over the movie by default; he’s the only one who takes any initiative to do anything. I’ve always been Team Jacob — give me the lower-income Native American shape-shifters over the bloodsucking aristocracy (Occupy Forks!) — but it’s a pity about Taylor Lautner, who on his best day makes Kristen Stewart look like Maria Falconetti.

As a movie, this isn’t terrible; none of them have been, really. Each film has gotten a director who has tried to do something simple and honest with Meyer’s tormented material. Assuming the chair of dubious honor this time is Bill Condon, a long way from the sunnier days of Gods and Monsters and Kinsey. Regardless, he soldiers on, and he gives this half-story (he returns for Part 2, due next November) more gravitas and conviction than it deserves. Condon knows he can’t show the particulars of the harrowing caesarean birth without risking an NC-17 rating, so he sketches and suggests, letting our imaginations do the queasy work. Breaking Dawn will not be his proudest moment, but it doesn’t bring him disgrace either. (It’s already the most insanely successful box-office hit he’ll ever have — until, perhaps, Part 2 — which may finance another film or two at the level of Gods and Monsters.)

The main problem here is that, aside from its many bizarre elements, the film feels like the prelude to the more interesting finale that Part 2 promises to be, what with Bella now vampirized and feeling her new powers. If that doesn’t goose Kristen Stewart into moving that angular granite she calls her face, I don’t know what will. We will also have a run-in with the Volturi, the elitest of all elite vampires, and the continuing saga of Jacob’s “imprinting” on Bella and Edward’s baby daughter, who has been graced with the perfectly ghastly name Renesmee. If you hear of any impressionable Twilight fans who have actually named their defenseless babies Renesmee — or Edward Jacob, for that matter — please keep this to yourself.