Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder? Reflections on Twilight

Oh, Twilight. You saucy subliminal minx!

I’m usually not one for teen b/pop culture (save for rhinestone headbands—Gossip Girl forever!), but when my mom recently brought home Twilight by Stephenie Meyer as the latest selection for her book club, I thought, hey, it’s here– no harm no foul (1) if I sneak a peek (2). No-one will even have to know. And, I was banking on raunchy cheeky flair similar to Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula 2.0 it was not. There was no ‘When in Rome’ mentality, no gratuitous biting scenes, no sexual innuendos, no red corsets, fangs or full-length leather jackets. You know, none of the really great cheesy vampire motifs that we’ve all come to savour. But I still devoured the book and then immediately sprinted to BB to rent the film.

And as I was watching the film, it hit me (3). Twilight is genius because it is cleverly idolizing teens that choose abstinence, hammering in those old fashion values we’ve all come to forget. These aren’t your grandma’s vampires, these are vamp-pures.

Let’s start with Bella Swan [Hmmm, a literal ‘beautiful transformation’?]. The film (like the book) starts off in Phoenix. You know, a dry arid climate with the odd tumbleweed. I’d say that image in a female context can mean one of two things: pre-puberty or menopause. Since we know Bella’s only 17, it can’t be the latter. The next scene takes place in Forks [“The little town for big decisions”], Washington—described as one of the rainiest (and conifer thriving) climates. Bam! Her journey from Phoenix to Forks has left her womanhood transition complete. On screen, Bella arrives in Forks clutching a tiny cactus souvenir—the last shred of her pre-puberty life—and despite her eagle’s grip on the pot, it is never referenced again.

Now a newfound woman, Bella notices Edward—he’s good-natured but somehow bad, he’s not afraid of eye contact and he doesn’t care what people think of him. Did you date this boy in high school? You sure did. We all did.

And, unlike the other silly boys in Forks who throw licorice at your head when you’re trying to listen to your iPod and catch up on your Shakespeare homework, Edward is different. He’s self-restraining and cautious. I mean, he drives a Volvo. And because Eddie is pushing ninety-odd years, he’s got those old malt shop values and morals that they just don’t make in teens these days. The good stuff from 1918. Like getting married before getting into bed.

Anyway, in science class, Bella takes the last free seat, coincidentally next to Edward. He almost pukes from her smell. Bella worries that it might be her shampoo. But it’s not Wildberry Tango that’s the problem. It’s her pheromones (4). And Edward, you better watch out, because temptation is coming after you and she’s a persuasive mistress. Likewise for the Bellster, so they obviously start dating.

And their dating leads to the cinematic portrayal of regular transitions that occur during your first relationship. Things like overcoming your insecurities (like your sparkly diamond-like (5) skin), flaunting your assets (climbing mountains in warp speed), and the all important cryptic-yet-engaging circular conversations (“I said that we shouldn’t be friends, not that I didn’t want to be friends…yadda yadda”). Nothing new here.

But, what is new is the way Twilight handles the romantic dream-like sequence common in teen films. Unlike other genres, where the on screen “dream” sequence is an important way to get around (and illustrate) racy sex scenes (Yeah, it happened—but it was just a “dream”. Geez.), Twilight’s dream-sequences emphasize TALKING. Yep, in the two main sequences, Bells and Eddie are both lying down (gasp!) in a meadow and in Bella’s bed, just talking, probably about the playoffs, the weather, and Bella’s refurbished Ford Model T, etc.

“I can’t dance,” she says to Edward after she selects Debussy’s fragile Claire de Lune on CD in his bedroom (sans bed, of course—because Vampires don’t sleep or sleep around) right after she meets his parents for the first time. But don’t worry, Bella. Because dancing leads to sex. So you dodged that silver bullet of temptation.

So anyways, they share lots of tame hand holding and one awkward kiss. Not your usual vampire fare. Of course, the final scene leaves us hanging for the second film. But if the films follow the same outline as the books, then we’ve got a lot of waiting to do. Book four to be precise.

So what does it all mean? Vampires—they’re so hot. And sexy. But let’s make them chaste. And let’s make them willing to wait.

It doesn’t really bother me either way, but I’m impressed by the genius way Meyer et al almost pulled the wool over my eyes. I guess it’s making abstinence cool again without that ridiculous “I choose to wait” jewellery. And perhaps by encouraging abstinence, maybe we won’t be seeing any more of those “Teen Pregnancy! Holla!”-type films that have all the old folks in a flap. Or maybe not (6).


1. Since last week, I am now the shameful owner of the entire Twilight saga and special edition DVD.
2. The apple (cough, cough) on the book’s cover was enough of a temptation for me.
3. Well, Meyer’s alma mater tipped my off—Brigham Young University.
4. And the scent of Bella’s blood. Wrapped in pheromones.
5. Which I would kill to have.
6. (Eye rolling) At least until the final book in the saga. But don’t worry—the marriage came first.


Top photo: “Forest” by Loren Kerns, used under CC BY / Resized from original

1 Comment

  1. Angelica says:

    This is very interesting and well written, chalk full of your usual wit! It definitely intrigues me to want to see the movie, but not read the book. Reading is a thing of the past, like waiting to get married before sex.

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