10 Years of Twilight: Why the Series Could Never Be As Popular Today
Bella Swan is a quiet girl coming to a new high school. She finds herself drawn to a boy, and he is to her. It’s an old story. What Twilight adds, and what turned it into a phenomenon, was a little bit of the supernatural. Edward Cullen is pale. He lives in Washington because it’s always cloudy. In the world of Twilight, he is a prototypical bad boy. He’s also a vampire.
Twilight is ten years old now, and it can be easy to forget how enormous those books and movies were. The first Twilight flick came out the same year as Iron Man and The Dark Knight, and the legacies of those superhero films has far outstripped the one left by Twilight. Edward and Bella came and went, and their story was very much of its moment.
Femininity as Passivity
The central tension in Edward and Bella’s relationship comes from Edward’s destructive nature. He wants to be with Bella, but he knows that he’ll always be tempted to suck her blood — you know, because he’s a vampire. She becomes embroiled in his story. She’s the central character, technically, but she’s only incidental to its story.
In later Twilight installments, Bella does figure more prominently in the story, but it’s notable that the first Twilight suggests that her life is largely dull and empty until she meets Edward. He is the exciting force in her life, the one compelling her toward action.
Bad Boy Fiction
There’s already been plenty written about Bella’s passive nature as a heroine. While it’s true that she doesn’t play an active role in her own story, that may only be part of the problem with reevaluating Twilight today.
Bella’s attraction to Edward, the way she feels compelled to go with this man whose life is filled with danger, isn’t exactly brand new. There’s a long legacy in fiction of troubled young girls who elect to lead a life of danger to be with the man they love.
Today, it feels like those stories may need some reexamining. Edward Cullen’s intentions may be good, but the idea that a woman should leave her entire life behind to be with a man who is really a good guy, deep down, feels like one that comes from a male-dominated system that is asking women to cut guys a little slack. After all, they’re trying their best. They can’t help it if their natural inclination is towards danger and murder.
Twilight’s Lack of Self-Awareness
All of this is not to say that there aren’t real women out there who find danger attractive. There certainly are, and they often find a man who’s more than willing to provide it. There’s an alternate version of Twilight that holds up better today, one where the movie is more willing to question the actions of its protagonist.
Instead, Twilight seems to suggest that Bella’s attraction to Edward is totally natural, and it would be stranger if she didn’t give into it. There’s no feeling that her temptation to go with him is dangerous or a bad idea. Instead, the movie seems to exist just so she can take that leap.
As cliched as its already become, this movie feels a bit dissonant with the central ideas of the “me too” movement. Edward is not abusive, per se, but he’s straightforward about the dangers of his life, and how tempted he is to hurt her.
You could argue that, because Bella is aware of these dangers, her choice to go with him is entirely her own. That’s certainly true, but it doesn’t excuse the movie’s apparent full-throated support for her decision. No one seriously challenges Bella’s choice, and she never really has any doubts. She wants to be with him. It’s that simple.
Twilight was part of a YA phenomenon that came and went in less than a decade. The films also gave us two fascinating performers who have taken much less mainstream paths since these movies. Both Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart have proven themselves to be great actors, but their choice of roles has been decidedly more indie. Twilight gave both of them the chance to make the movies they wanted to make.
The series itself was the kind of phenomenon that it’s easy to dismiss now as just an aberration. While it was here, though, Twilight ensnared young people across the country. Today, the movie reads very differently than it did 10 years ago. We’ve started to arrive at a place where we question the behavior of men in a new way. We’re considering their actions, and what we’ve let them get away with.
Edward Cullen is well-intentioned. He doesn’t mean Bella any harm. Still, by his very nature, he’s a danger to her. In a sick, twisted way, Edward may actually be an excellent example of how many men can come across. Some are malicious, but most mean no harm. Even so, they can still do irrevocable damage to those who are caught in their wake.