The world’s most insipid young lovers, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), finally consummate their love in Breaking Dawn—Part 1, the fourth installment in the Twilight series. This is cause for celebration only because it means our death march through the movie adaptations of Stephenie Meyer’s twisted but steadily puritanical saga is finally nearing its end.
I wish I could report it was worth the wait, but the paparazzi pictures of Pattinson and Stewart nuzzling are sexier than this. After Edward and Bella mutter their vows to each other in the woodsy garden of the Cullen mansion, the duo departs for a honeymoon on a Brazilian island. There is an ongoing debate over exactly how they’ll fare in the all-white marital bed. Bella’s discarded swain, Jacob (Taylor Lautner) the gentle werewolf, voices his concerns about their having sex before Bella has been turned into a vampire. “You’ll kill her!” he says to Edward, as if a vampire penis were a 300-horse-powered drill. But Bella demurs; the conversion process from human to vamp is agonizing. “I don’t want to spend my honeymoon writhing in pain.”
Ahem. She does end up bruised after giving up her maidenhood, and no wonder — Edward clutches the bedstead in pleasure and it crunches like Styrofoam (or a cheesy set) beneath his fingers. But everything we see is tame, firmly in the territory of artfully tangled sheets. Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Gods and Monsters) delivers soap-opera-style sex — the kisses are dry, the caresses sweat-free, yet still, he cuts away discreetly like a blushing schoolgirl.
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Bella is game for more. “I think we did amazing,” she says in the morning. Fussy Edward valiantly vows not to put out again until Bella has been turned. They play chess instead, moving red and white pieces around the board instead of enjoying a piece of each other. He resolutely ignores how cute she looks in lingerie. In one hilarious bit, he eyes her lacy rump, then pulls the covers over it. Young people of the world: Sex is nothing like this!
The die is cast, though; their unplanned demon child is already growing within her, gestating at a rate so speedy, it might make a cat jealous. There are many things about Meyer’s fantasy universe that drive me crazy, but her constant sidestepping of accepted vampire lore comes close to topping the list. The most flagrant violation of standard vampire behavior is the revelation that they can impregnate a human (in Joss Whedon’s television series Angel, one vampire gets another vampire pregnant, another stretch, but at least it was supernatural all the way around). See, this is what happens when you don’t practice safe sex; even the undead can knock you up.
This is Meyer’s worst offense — her disturbingly Victorian attitudes about sex and love, which this movie falls modestly in lockstep with, even though it concludes years of cinematic foreplay. Twilight came out in 2008, but it feels like we’ve been waiting a decade for these two to get past first base. I know it’s too late in the game to get all hot and bothered about the basic premise. But there are so many scenes of people standing around doing nothing and posing ridiculously, like models in a commercial for high-end jeans, that I had time to reflect on both the petty (like how peculiar Bella’s gown is, ill-fitting spandex in the bodice, Priscilla of Boston lace panels in the back) and the perverse. This is the stuff of gothic novels, the heroine swayed by the terrible, beastly maleness of her lover, a sexual act that hovers on rape in its sense of terror. Bella relinquishes control, sexual pupil to Edward’s century-old rake, while he wakes up in the morning full of mopey self-loathing (“How badly are you hurt?”). Maybe Meyer never got over her own teenage Georgette Heyer phase.
There is also something extraordinarily deflating about realizing that you are sitting among a throng of blissful fans content with such a static enterprise. If it weren’t for the gifted Anna Kendrick as Bella’s best human friend (“I just thought it would bigger,” she says of the cake) and Bella’s dad Charlie (Billy Burke), the movies would feature nothing but unintentional humor. As Bella’s belly grows, the Cullen clan gathers around, plying her with cashmere throws and cups full of O Negative (this fetus has no interest in ice cream or pickles). But they’re helpless. What’s in there? “It’s just a little baby,” one of the indistinguishable girl Cullens says. “Possibly,” hisses one of the boy Cullens. Even doctor “dad” Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) doesn’t know what to do. The superhuman baby is sucking his mother dry — the already skinny Stewart looks like death’s head here. Let’s hope her skeletal frame owes something to CGI. Edward is in favor of a late-term abortion in order to save his lady love, but as usual she’s stubborn. No matter that a war is brewing between the Quileute “dogs” and the vamps over the undead unborn. She loves the baby. And as the birth approaches, in a bit of remarkable vampire technology, Edward is able to communicate with the fetus Cullen and learn this wonderful tidbit: “He loves you, Bella.”
There has been much speculation over how the birth sequence would be handled. Even die-hard Meyer fans admit to being freaked out by how bloody and weird it is on the page, with fangs replacing surgical instruments. On the screen, it is a rapidly cut sequence of ketchup and interior views of veins, less horrifying than bizarre, and like the sex, oddly anticlimactic. In the final installment, due next November, Bella will be a mother and a vampire, but since the Twilight movies are the most remote tale of love, sex and reproduction ever put to film, the chances that Breaking Dawn—Part 2 will be anything worth sinking your teeth into are as slim as Bella Swan.
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