Yesterday, I went to see Breaking Dawn: Part 2. While I am not a professional critic and did not note-take during the movie, I was left less than satisfied when the lights came up. I warn anyone reading this that – since my dissatisfaction was predominantly (though not totally) to do with the denouement – my review will inevitably contain the most appalling spoilers.
While I could not say I am totally averse to the Twilight universe, I must at the outset confess to misgivings about it. In its essentials it lacks coherency, artistry and aesthetic; it is monomaniacal in it’s devotion to ‘love’ and to the avoidance of death; the characters are mostly pale shadows of real people who can have only one emotion, thought or take one action from a single motive, at a time. On the other hand, it has some enjoyable elements, particularly in its filmic incarnation. Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner for a start. There is also the odd glimmer of humour, mostly provided by Billy Burke, and pleasing visual tricks. Also, like all epic or, in this-case, wannabe-epic, stories, there is a long arc (a ‘metanarrative’ if you like, though not in the technical sense – perhaps ‘macronarrative’ would be better) within which many smaller stories swim. Most the smaller episodes in the Twilight series are not well well developed and the one or two tantalising glimpses of interest (for example the vampire Jasper’s career in Civil War America) are unexplored.
Nevertheless, let me concentrate on the most recent film, and not run over the disappointments of the past; there are enough to satisfy the glummest pessimists in its one hundred and sixteen minutes. In the first place the nearly two hours really feels like it. Unless you are particularly interested in the domestic arrangements of the two main characters and their enjoyment of sex. Having always taken the Anne Riceian view that vampires don’t do sex per se, because their experience of existence is, one might say, ‘ontologically’ other, I find the attention to it in Twilight a bit uninteresting. There is an underlying idea that the most exciting thing which can happen to a human is copulation; and therefore the vampire, with its heightened sensual experience, must enjoy this as the apex of his or her existence. “How can we ever stop?” Bella breathes after a particularly rigorous session on the hearth-rug. Somehow, they do manage. And when they do, something actually happens.
I say something, because what precisely it is remains still a slight mystery. One of the numerous deus ex machina which make this direly plotted story work is that a cousin to the Cullen’s comes to call and spies the ‘human-vampire’ child Renesmee (don’t ask) and thinks it is an ‘immortal child’ (i.e. a child turned into a vampire). Of course this is quite wrong – but the cousin takes a trip to Italy to see the Volturi – who consist of Michael Sheen (his character is too weird and so his talent is wasted) Jamie Cambell-Bower (weird, no talent – I offer Camelot as evidence of this assertion) and Christopher Heyderdahl (again wasted, though he does have what is possibly the best line in the movie). Anyway, that sets up the final quarter of the film (well, it may have been longer, but as usual with Twilight the good bits always seem the shortest), and the final meeting between the Cullens and the Volturi Guard.
Here we have a lot of travelling, a mysterious disappearance of a main character, a bit of whining (as C.S. Lewis said, ‘like a peace-time poet’), lots of meaningful glances, a strange scene in a restaurant, more driving, and lots of ‘telling’ us what is happening either through Bella’s narration (always a feature) or anime style dialogue.
And then, the real betrayal.
I confess that I had deliberately not read the book and so had no idea what to expect. But what happened was stunning. At last! Here was the real meaning of all this dragging story: the vampires would wipe themselves from the face of the earth, the wolves would return to their human natures, the child Renesmee would mark the end of one thing and the beginning of something new and better, uniting in herself vampires and humans (without the wickedness of vampires wanting to drink human blood), and, through her love for Jacob, all three natures would be reconciled. Oh bliss – I hadn’t wasted my time after all.
But no. It was all fake. A pretend twist invented by the film-makers to give a little thrill to the initiate (all those who had read the book), add a bit of spice and action to what otherwise would have been the most appalling boring and banal conclusion. In the second deus ex machina it was a vision offered to Aro by the now (miraculously) returned Alice. The third deus ex machina is a ‘witness’ produced by Alice – to prove that Renesmee is not the only vampire-human child; there is nothing, in fact, unique or important about her at all. My reaction to all this was incredulity – what is the purpose of it all? By the time we reach the end nothing is different from the beginning: the characters are no richer, they have not changed, they do not think or act or love differently, and worse they are no better, than they were in the first minute of the first film. All is the same. It is clinging storge gone to hell. And the real ending? Happy forever in an appalling eternity of ungrowing domesticity. It is not good, or moving, or even really ‘happy’ except in the most obvious and immature way. Overwhelmingly I was left wondering what the point of it all was.
My fellow viewers on the other hand seemed to enjoy it immensely, thinking the trick ending clever and thrilling or being very pleased that Carlisle (yes, with an s) hadn’t had his head ripped off. So, at least I was able to enjoy their enjoyment – even if they didn’t really understand my disappointment.