Nearly a decade after the release of the final film in the saga, it appears as though the Twilight series is making its comeback. It seems neither long-awaited nor warranted but that isn’t stopping Stephanie Meyer’s pack of sparkling vampires from experiencing their renaissance.
As the world has descended into madness with deadly plague raging on, one immortal teenage boy’s name was on everybody’s lips; Edward Cullen. Surviving – sort of – the last global pandemic, the Spanish Influenza in 1918, it seems only right to turn to Edward in our time of universal need. But it is our heroine Bella Swan whose story remains a mystery.
The Twilight Saga is a paranormal romance following Bella Swan, a normal 17-year-old who relocates to the small town of Forks, Washington. She quickly learns that the town is also inhabited by a family of vampires; the Cullens and enters into an intense relationship with Edward, causing her to eventually become a vampire herself. In 2008, Twilight was released launching the careers of its stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. With already a very dedicated book fan base, the release of each film came with even more fanfare.
Throughout the four books and five films (remember when film series endings were separated into two parts) Bella and Edward’s love confronted many obstacles. They faced enemy werewolf clans, powerful ancient vampire covens, an unplanned demon baby pregnancy, and of course Jacob. Back in the early 2010s, it seemed as if you could determine a person entirely based on whether they were Team Edward or Team Jacob. Everything about Twilight was divisive, it was pitted against the Harry Potter series and later The Hunger Games series. It was seen as a blight against culture and was the butt of countless jokes and even today we are wondering if it really deserved all the hate.
As our protagonist, Bella Swan is the epitome of a damsel in distress. One of her few personality traits is being clumsy, but luckily she has not one but two supernatural suitors who are willing to always save her. But while her vulnerability and weakness may have worked to her character’s favour in a Wattpad fanfiction, it struggled to land as a major motion picture. The combination of the modern high school setting paired with the outdated gender norms becomes disconcerting in contemporary young adult media. In many ways, Twilight was regressive even for 2005, when the first book was published. We had strong feminist characters already in the genre like the women in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and later in The Hunger Games.
For the most part, teenage heroines in fiction are either ridiculed or face tragic fates, either way, they are usually overwhelmed by an ambiguous destiny. Twilight has all the markings of a modern-day fairytale. There is clear topography to the town Forks with many of the adventures taking place in the mystical forest; a place where vampires play baseball to the soundtrack of Muse. The story not only draws on old mythologies but also subverts it. As Bella says in Breaking Dawn, “Edward had always thought he belonged to the world of horror stories. Of course, I’d known he was dead wrong. It was obvious that he belongs here. In the fairy tale”. Although Bella is Beauty and Edward is the Beast, it is she who faces the final transformation becoming the ultimate monster, a vampire.
The central tension of The Twilight Saga is that Edward is both Bella’s predator and her ultimate protector. She was characterised as the lamb to his lion. Her two options are to be killed by him unwillingly or to become a vampire, killing a part of herself. Ultimately, her destruction is inevitable in both her destinies. Throughout the series, it is clear that Bella is not in control of her choices, particularly when it comes to her own body. While vampire stories often represent women as innocent victims of killer’s lust, Twilight has a slightly more ambiguously idea of vampire sexuality which is confusing both heated and puritanical. That is without mentioning perplexing internal logic. In Breaking Dawn, Bella becomes accidentally pregnant with a half-human, half-vampire baby named Renesmee. Notwithstanding questions around how a hundred-year-old dead man impregnated someone, the pregnancy ravages her body leading Jezebel to call the film a “creepy antiabortion allegory”. Bella is portrayed as a heroic martyr for carrying Edward’s demon baby instead of the delusional love-struck teen she actually is.
Throughout its run, Twilight faced insurmountable criticism. Much of it is valid, even today there are a few people claiming that it was a secretly literary masterpiece of great cinema, yet much of its criticism was also unfounded, or at the very least, disproportionate to the actual subject matter. The success of Twilight also coincided with the beginnings of the mainstream feminist movement. Feminism was quickly moving from a fringe movement to something Taylor Swift and Beyoncé were earnestly discussing. It seemed only a matter of time before Twilight’s relevance disappeared from society.
Much of the pop feminist critique of Twilight in its heyday was rooted in internal misogyny. It relied on woke women distancing themselves from the other; the vapid girls who dared to care about the series. The first Twilight film was directed by Catherine Hardwicke, the only women to direct any of the five films. The film turned a relatively modest budget of $37 million to an astronomical £407 million final box office numbers. It also became the highest opening weekend gross was the highest ever of a female-directed film. Like with most things geared towards female audiences, producing it was a big risk, and even after that risk paid off, she still was not able to direct the next four films. Interestingly, the first film is the only which seems to grapple with the strangeness of the books instead of the commercialised great romantic odyssey which the later films were sold as.
So why is Twilight making a comeback now? In these strange times, so many of us are regressing to old media from a seemingly better time. Just because we have theoretically moved past the need for stories which loudly prize the heroine’s and innocence and police their desire doesn’t mean they are no longer being made. We see time and time again, films targeted at male audiences given an elevated cultural currency while work for young women is derided.
That being said, do I think Twilight can be re-made with a similar level of success? No. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it for what it is now. Even now there are so many questions left unanswered, like: how did Stephanie Meyer think it was okay to romantically pair Jacob with a baby? Who made the wigs in all the films and why do they look like that? Why is the soundtrack so unrealistically good? For a series that once dominated society, it seems Twilight now mainly lives through memes, and perhaps that is its greatest form.
by Amal Abdi
Amal (she/her) is an arts and culture writer from London. She is studying for an MA in Political Communications and cares about equally about international affairs and rom-coms. Some of her favourite films are Pride and Prejudice, Bend It Like Beckham and 10 Things I Hate About You. When she is not watching films you can find her listening to corny musical soundtracks or worrying about the state of the planet. You can find her on twitter at @amoollie_