What Do Women Want: Rob/Edward/Twilight Included in Discussion @HuffingtonPost

Men get a bye when it comes to their fantasy life – no matter how disturbing or buffoonish – but women are expected to be the grown-ups, even though it’s not much fun being the designated driver. In a strange way, we take female fantasies too seriously and not seriously enough. Our movie fantasies are supposed to be tame and measured, lest they cause alarm. You rarely hear people worrying about protecting society from James Bond’s or Batman’s exploits, but when something lowbrow for women comes along, like the blockbuster Twilight series, the hailstorm of scorn and anxiety rains down. It’s hard to be both insipid and harmful, yet that’s often the standard rap about chick flicks. But if you can ignore the din of derision, a seemingly lightweight adventure like Twilightoffers some interesting clues about the female inner world.

By now, everyone has heard of the impossible love story of the teenage girl from Forks and her immortal vampire love. If you know nothing else about Bella and Edward’s baroque romance, or the pack of sullen adolescent wolves who try to subvert it, you may have at least heard about the sickening birth scene in the most recent film installment, Breaking Dawn, that allegedly gave some real movie-goers seizures. So let’s jump straight into Crazy Land, shall we, with a plot that hinges on an unexpected honeymoon pregnancy of epic proportions. After just a few moments of soft-core bliss, Bella’s devastated husband and the audience watch with helpless horror while her body wastes away from the stress of carrying an inhuman pregnancy.

Breaking Dawn also engages seriously with the idea that childbearing can be a scary and very bloody business. It’s easy to forget that more than 500,000 women worldwide still die every year in childbirth, and even that staggering number doesn’t begin to capture the many millions more who come close to death or who are left with disabling physical injuries. Not to mention the agony of pregnancy loss, neonatal death, birth anomalies, and other undesired outcomes. Women know this, of course, the way generations of men have known battle stories. War movies, of varying degrees of realism and quality, have always provided a window into men’s hopes and fears.

I mention maternal mortality because it’s not only women’s dreamy fantasies that are absent in mainstream movies. Women’s fears are missing, too. It says something deeply unflattering about the state of American culture that it takes a teenage vampire movie to capture women’s worries, imagined and real, about reproduction and motherhood. For all its freakish implausibility, critics who panned the nauseating birth scene in Breaking Dawn were missing the point.

It’s grotesque, yes, but not ridiculous. Robert Pattinson nails the desperation (on poor Edward’s bloodied face) that accompanies a birth when things go badly wrong. But in some ways, the Breaking Dawn scene actually doesn’t go far enough in its gothic horror. When I lost half my blood volume giving birth to my first child, an obstetrical resident crudely described the delivery room scene as a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre party.” And a physician friend recently noted that, “cesareans are real blood baths.” Are we surprised, then, that female viewers might be drawn to Breaking Dawn like a highway pileup? The theatre went totally silent during the birth scene at the screening I attended. This crazy shit speaks to us.

People are naturally uneasy with the asymmetry between the hot vampire and the young frail human (whose translucent skin and klutzy limbs occupy a lot of real estate in the books). But, to be fair, Bella was never quite the loser it’s been claimed: she’s a good friend and does well in school. She has a job and a car and cares for an infantile mother and a dad who can’t microwave a pizza. Bella was “born thirty-five” she explains early on. She’s also apparently the only human sufficiently on the ball to notice the creepy exceptionalism of a coven of vampires trying to pass for regular folks.

On the other hand, there’s no denying that Bella’s a dullard compared to the boyfriend whose defining feature is perfection. Interestingly, the one power Edward lacks is the ability to read Bella’s mind. He spends much of his abundant free time struggling to understand his beloved, and he suffers the added indignity of watching Bella’s half-wolf buddy, Jacob, connect easily with her. Any woman who has ever played the game of forcing her man to guess what he has done wrong will like this thread of the story a lot.

But Bella is also riddled with a rat’s nest of teenage inadequacies and tics, and the naysayers find Edward’s steely adoration implausible. Bella will always be inferior in everyone’s eyes … but his. That, of course, is precisely the point. The multilingual polymath with mind-reading powers and superhuman strength is in love with Bella’s sweet normalcy.

And here’s the other point: Edward’s vampiric love is unalterable. When Bella badgers him that she will age and die while he retains his perfect, 17-year old body, Edward insists that he will go on loving her, and no one else, even as she becomes a shriveled, sagging mess. “That makes no difference to me,” he insists earnestly. “You will always be the most beautiful thing in my world.”

To read part 1 in its entirety, click here.

This entry was posted on February 20th, 2012 and and is filed under Breaking Dawn Part 1, Internet/Bloggers, Movies, Press, Reviews, Twilight. Get RSS feed for comments on this post or the for this article.

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