How Twilight Offers Fans the Magic Missing from Organized Religion
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At a recent screening of Eclipse, a man proposed to his girlfriend on bended knee in front of the theatre audience, and then they rejoined the cheering crowd to watch the film.
Currently, a replica of Bella’s engagement ring, which Edward bestows upon her in Eclipse, is one of the most popular items for fans to purchase, providing another way for the romantic narrative of the film to cross into regular life. The vision of romance offered by Eclipse and encapsulated by the ring is almost supernatural and otherworldly to most girls and women who encounter the failure of marriage as a romantic institution and the schizophrenia of messages about sexuality from “Girls Gone Wild” to “True Love Waits.” Into this bewildering mix, Twilight offers a fictional mirage of romance and enchantment. First, there are the scenes in Eclipse where Edward insists on preserving Bella’s virtue before marriage. Bella is assured of eternity with the person she loves because unlike humans, vampires’ emotions are not fickle and transient. She will remain in the form of a lithe teenage girl without the creeping malaise of middle-age, disillusionment, and financial strain that accompanies marriage over time. Edward explains how in his time, he would have asked permission to court Bella, stealing kisses with her while drinking lemonade on the front porch. It’s a vision of romance and relationships far removed from the daily life of most fans, but in the immediacy of watching the film, it seems anything might be possible. You might even receive a marriage proposal in the movie theatre.
Unlike most fans, I prefer the Twilight films to the books, and Eclipse presents the archaic version of romance offered by the novels in a more palatable form. Like the other films, the excruciating detail with which Bella recounts the meals she cooks for her father are eliminated. The Bella who mopes and pines for Edward when he’s away for mere hours in the novels is replaced in the film by a character with somewhat more pluck and humor. In the first scene, she curtails her embrace with Edward and leaves him looking pinched and brooding in the meadow as she heads home for curfew. When Edward explains that marriage may seem old-fashioned but it makes sense in his world, Bella quips that the only reason people in her world get married at age eighteen is because they’re knocked up (she consents to marry him later on, but it’s still an improvement). Her constant self-torment over hurting Jacob and Edward in the book, which can be exhausting to read, is significantly edited. The tension is certainly present in Eclipse, but at least we are treated to some banter and jokes. Jacob says to Edward: “Let’s face it — I’m hotter than you.” At the end, Bella makes a speech that is utterly absent from the book. Here she claims that she chose Edward not simply because of her obsessive love for him, but because she always felt she was stumbling through the world, and the realm of vampires and werewolves is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable. “So, it’s not just about me?” he asks.
What if the ways fans enact ritual, spirituality and belonging in relation to Twilight were built on a more robust vision of enchantment and romance? While Eclipse hews faithfully to the narrative of the books, it offers another interpretation upon which fans might envision forms of spirituality and transcendence. The enchantment of Twilight doesn’t reside in Edward’s proclamations of love but the other dazzling possibilities in the text: the vampires don’t eat actual food so Bella is liberated from ever having to cook a meal once she becomes immortal. She eventually lives as part of an extended clan of Cullen vampires who are always on call to babysit and provide free daycare. Sex is always awesome. And then there is immortality itself. I imagine a new “ Twilight Oath” where fans promise not to base their entire lives on a man, where marriage isn’t the pinnacle of relationships, where we don’t expect love to be a matter of fate, where sex doesn’t necessarily lead to pregnancy or near-death, where men can cook for themselves, and where everyone gets communal childcare and the benefits of extended, non-biological families. That would certainly be a form of enchantment.