Yes, you read that correctly. Breaking Dawn. As in the 4th installment in the Twilight franchise. Breaking Dawn is the book (and the film) in which the lead characters Edward and Bella marry and while on their honeymoon Bella gets pregnant. With a half-vampire child. All hell (ha ha! no pun was intended) breaks loose upon their return, with the baby growing too fast for Bella to handle, the wolf-pack threatening and vampires standing their ground.
What, you might ask, has this to do with life choices?
Good question and one that I am going to answer on two fronts. The first is that is has nothing REALLY to do with life choices as it is a work of fiction. And fantastical fiction, at that. In no way is Bella’s relationship with Edward supposed to be mistaken for something that could happen in real life. Vampires, werewolves = fiction. Tell that to some of the reviewers of this latest film, including EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum who goes on an infuriated rant about it in the latest issue of the magazine. Her take on the film includes the following:
[Bella]…is a bad role model for girls….a pox on Breaking Dawn the movie for its’ contented complicity with Stephanie Meyer’s ultimately awful, gracelessly written message to millions of readers. What we learn in this all pain/no pleasure episode is that marriage feels like a life sentence, weddings are miserable events, honeymoon sex is dangerous and pregnancy is a torment that leads to death in exchange for birth. Our heroine…has panic attacks before her wedding…could she be panicking because she’s ridiculously young to be getting married instead of furthering her education or pursuing a career or finding out what she really wants out of life?…Bella absorbs Breaking Dawn’s hooey-filled message of damnation disguised as romance: Humans must suffer on this earth. Especially women.”
Wow, easy Lisa. Your thinly veiled bitterness is showing.
When I first read this critique, I kept thinking that it reminded me of something. What was it? What was it? Oh yes! For those of you old enough to remember Vice President Dan “Keep me away from the microphone” Quayle, you might also remember a time when he got into a little trouble for criticizing Murphy Brown about her life choices, which in his opinion were lacking in “family values”. But wait a minute. Who was Murphy Brown? That’s right! A fictional character played by Candice Bergen who has a child out of wedlock. If there had been a blogosphere in 1992, it would have erupted with jokes and derision of the VP, who was instead lambasted by all the late night talk show hosts for his inability to discern fact from fiction.
Cut to today and the reviewers of Breaking Dawn, many of whom seem to be suffering from this same malady. Entertainment Weekly went so far as to interview an actual doctor in order to determine whether the birth scene as portrayed in the film was factual in the details. Ummm, excuse me? Bella is in love with a vampire. Half-vampire child is being born. And you’re going to argue about the fact that Bella managed to be awake during it? And as far as her being “ridiculously young”, once she becomes a vampire, she’ll live forever (barring some unforeseen mishap) and have all the time in the world to further her education, pursue a career, etc. If you’re going to argue about the story, you’ve got to do it from within the world of the story. Nobody talks about Star Trek and criticizes it for showing people “beaming up”. Nobody brings in scientists to tell us how impossible it would be for our cellular structure to be broken down and then reformed in such a way.
Now I will pretend that arguing “Breaking Dawn” from a more realistic view has merit. I disagreed with Ms. Schwarzbaum’s review before seeing the film and now that I have seen it, disagree even more.
First of all, why does Bella have to be a great role model? (I’m not saying that she’s not, mind you. I’ll get to that.) Must all young women portrayed in books or on film be great role models? Can’t we enjoy characters who are flawed, even annoying? Can’t we still see their merits and empathize with them and enjoy their story? Making it mandatory for every YA author to write their female characters as a stereotypical ‘strong woman role model’ is ridiculous and condescending to readers.
That said, I don’t think Bella is such a terrible role model. Yes, she’s kind of whiny and brooding. Gee, THAT doesn’t sound like any teenagers I know! But penalizing her for falling in love at a young age, deciding what she wants and sticking to it? I’m not sure that’s grounds for dismissal. Just because what she wants is to be with Edward? (and sorry, but I have to say it again. He’s a VAMPIRE.)
While we’re on the subject, what about Edward? Here’s a guy who treats the girl with the utmost respect and care, encourages her to stay human and go to university and refuses to have sex with her until they are married. How utterly awful of him! Yes, the bad role models are just piling up in this film.
And now to the film itself. Apparently Ms. Schwarzbaum and I saw different cuts of the movie. The wedding was anything but miserable, the honeymoon sex was extremely fulfilling (if a little damaging to the furniture) and the pregnancy, though fraught with discomfort and even peril, was deemed worth it because of the great love that existed between the couple and for the unborn child. Bella (that weak-willed, passive creature) fights all the odds to have her baby; has complete faith that the plan to change her in the end will work and never wavers in her loyalty towards those she loves. I mean really, how pathetic can you get?
The bottom line? I enjoyed the movie as great escapist fun. It was better than the other three (much credit to Bill Condon, the director, and every actor in the film who are nothing if not committed to their roles).
As to the rest? Reviewers like Ms. Schwarzbaum like to talk about this franchise as though it were real. So to them I will say that just because another person’s life choices don’t mirror your own doesn’t make them wrong, weak or bad role models. (Almost got through that with a straight face. VAMPIRE! is all I have to say.) Ms. Schwarzbaum loved the film “Juno” about a teen who has sex once, gets pregnant, has the baby and gives it up for adoption. She called the lead in that film “plucky”. (For the record, I liked that movie too.) It seems to me that Ms. Schwarzbaum has a problem with Breaking Dawn, not so much because it is a bad story or movie, but because she is the anti-Dan Quayle. There is just too much emphasis on family values for her comfort.
Did that sound like I was defending Dan Quayle? I’m going to ruin my reputation.