Content Note: Infertility, Dangerous Pregnancy, Racism
OK, so a bunch of you might be aware that I made a big spectacle out of myself and saw Breaking Dawn over Thanksgiving weekend. And now it's time for the Very Serious Review. And note that I am not going to refer to the book at all because I think movies should stand on their own. Ready? Let's go!
In Which I Disagree With Everyone Else On Earth
I've now read about 873 reviews of Breaking Dawn The Movie (BDTM?) and pretty much all of them have said that the movie was too long, that it shouldn't have been broken into two parts, and that it's criminal to make a 2-hour long movie about a horny chick who wants to have sex with a hawt vampire.
I don't enjoy the Twilight series in the same way that, say, actual fans enjoy it. I don't like Edward, I don't like Jacob, and I don't particularly like Bella. I don't really care about what happens to any of them, and I certainly don't blame anyone else for not wanting to see this movie.
Having said that, if we are going to accept women and women's fantasies as just as valid and valuable as men's fantasies -- and I think we should -- then we also have to accept that a 2-hour movie about marriage and sex and childbirth and how these things are affected within a supernatural setting is a perfectly legitimate thing.
We don't get to say that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Movie is about the Human Experience because it covers childhood and school and making friends and eating yummy food at least as much as it does Evil and Death and Blowing Stuff Up but then turn around and sneer because another movie covers periods and sex and leg-shaving and sundry girl stuff in a supernatural setting. Because I'm a girl and I care a bit more about periods than I do about boarding school, and I can't be the only one. So there's that.
(Although, of course, if you hated the Harry Potter movies and also want to hate on Breaking Dawn, then I guess that's consistent. And, really, I'm not saying you can't hate Breaking Dawn! Hate it all you want, for whatever reason you want! I won't judge you! Honest! But I, personally, am not going to say that Breaking Dawn is a crap movie because "nothing happens" when I actually think a lot happens, it's just a lot of Not Blowing Stuff Up and more periods and childbirth and IVs and stuff.)
And, for the record, the first three Twilight movies had more vampires and Blowing Up Of The Stuff and I actually did think those were a bit too long and needed pruning shears. Breaking Dawn The Movie felt... about right. Or at least no longer than any other bloated Hollywood new release these days.
The Twitter helped, of course.
In Which I Spill Feminism All Over The Probably-Not-Very-Feminist Movie
For the record, I don't think Breaking Dawn The Movie was intended as a feminist movie. For the record, I think it has some very problematic elements. For the record, I cringed when the movie kept having Alice refer to "the fetus" so that Rosalie could gnash her teeth and yell "it's a baby!" (This happened at least twice.) For the record, I didn't enjoy Edward mentally bonding with Magic Vampire Baby in utero as though the baby would somehow magically know how to speak English at that point, or at least enough to convey love and goodness and purity and awesome Magic Vampire Babyness.
But here's the thing about being a feminist: you start seeing feminist messages in things that are marketed to women. And in Breaking Dawn The Movie, I saw a feature film about a woman being denied Choice in pretty much every aspect of her life until she finally dug in her heels and said screw you, this is my body. And... I'm not sure how I feel about that.
BDTM opens with Bella preparing for a wedding that she... doesn't want. She loves Edward and she wants to spend the rest of her life with him, and she wants him to turn her into a vampire so that they can masquerade at the same ages for the rest of eternity, but she doesn't want to be married right now. At first this seems like a contradiction -- she wants eternity, but not marriage? -- but it comes out that she's nervous about all the commotion and people and also the associated judging (because obviously only pregnant couples get married at eighteen!). OK. I get that. That feeling? Of wanting eternity but not a huge wedding? That feeling is totally valid.
But Edward won't turn her without a wedding, so Bella has to agree to the whole kit-and-kaboodle if she's going to have the future she wants. And naturally they can't have a small wedding because Alice wouldn't like that -- despite the fact that Alice could, you know, have her own wedding with Jasper -- so it's got to be as big as possible and Bella gets to be nervous and hyperventilating in front of the camera. And despite her obvious nervousness, no one -- least of all her long-suffering, packed-with-concerns father -- turns to her and says, "You don't have to do this. You have a choice." No one -- not Edward, not Alice, not Charlie -- actively offers Bella a Choice in the proceedings.
During the reception, Bella lets slip that she has made a Choice to try to have sex with Edward on their honeymoon, pre-vampirism, because she wants to experience pleasure as a human before she experiences the pain of turning and the blood-lust that follows. Jacob is furious because Bella's Choice is dangerous, but instead of trying to talk to her, he yells at her and grabs her arm and hurts her emotionally and physically. Jacob wants to take Bella's Choice away from her.
In their honeymoon suite, Edward and Bella have sex, and when she wakes up, Edward pushes her robe down to reveal light bruising on her arm and shoulder. Bella frowns deeply and meaningfully at the bruises, and it crosses her face that she is Not Happy About Them, but then she points out to Edward that (a) they knew this would be difficult and (b) they're doing pretty good all things considered. Edward refuses to listen to her, and refuses to discuss the point further: There will be No Sex Anymore.
Edward is very entitled to a say in this: no one should be expected to participate in sex that they aren't comfortable with. But Edward isn't discussing their sexual relationship; he's mandating it. There follows a montage where Bella does everything she can to seduce him and is openly more and more miserable and depressed, and still Edward refuses to even discuss alternatives with Bella. And this is a problem! Maybe Edward legitimately can't have PIV missionary sex with Bella, but that doesn't mean they have no recourse whatsoever on the sexual gratification front. And even if they didn't, he should still talk to her about it. But he won't, and in this very important aspect of every relationship, he robs her of a voice, and robs her of a Choice.
And then Bella is pregnant. And almost the first thing Edward says is "we're going to get that thing out of you."
He doesn't ask Bella what she wants. He doesn't even seem to consider that she might want something different from him. Edward believes the creature is evil; Bella has faith that the creature is good, or at least capable of good. At this point, neither really knows anything -- Bella's situation is utterly unique and unheard of. But Edward wants to have complete control over the situation. And, shockingly, Bella refuses to give him that control. Bella exercises her Choice.
BDTM has been criticized for portraying a woman intent against abortion despite the fact that her pregnancy is fatal, but this isn't quite true. Bella doesn't have an ectopic pregnancy; she has a Magic Vampire Baby pregnancy which is utterly unheard of. They don't really know if it's fatal or not -- they're flying totally blind. Furthermore, she has an actual plan that isn't just "carry baby to term; keel over dead". Bella plans to carry the baby as long as possible, have a C-section, and then be vampirized at the last minute. That way, she can have the baby plus her life. And she honestly seems to believe this will work; certainly she discusses the plan at length with Edward and Carlisle. And it's worth noting that Bella is right -- this is, in fact, precisely what happens in the end.
Bella is in danger, and she acknowledges that. She might die -- just as a great many women in normal pregnancy situations can die -- and she discusses that calmly with Edward. Edward makes the point that by robbing him of any say in the matter, she's potentially leaving him alone without her... and this is a Very Important Point. It's a point I'm glad he made. But in the end if two people can't be brought around to the same point of view, a decision has to be made. And I think that the person whose body is at stake is the person who should make the decision.
Being pro-choice means just that: it's about trusting women to make their own choices. It doesn't mean trusting women to make choices I approve of. If your doctor tells you there's an X% chance that your pregnancy will kill you and X turns out to be a number higher than I like, I totally reserve the right to privately think that maybe your choice is Not A Good Choice. But I will fight to make sure that you keep that right to make a choice because the validity of your choice is none of my business.
And now I'll wax personal for a minute. I am an infertile woman. I've spent a great deal of time and money trying to get pregnant, only to find out that, no, I can't. No babies for me. I'm okay with that. I have the life I want, the future I need, and the person I want to share it with.
If I were suddenly pregnant tomorrow and there were a 10% chance the pregnancy might kill me, would I take that chance? What about a 20% chance or a 30% chance? What level of chance would be too high for me, and at what point would I say, no, the risk is too great, I'll get that abortion.
I honestly do not know. I'm not going to put a number on this hypothetical situation, because I can't know. But I would want that situation to be my choice. I send money to Planned Parenthood every year because I think everyone should have that choice. So while I may not appreciate Rosalie yelling at Alice about the difference between fetus and baby and vampire-demon-baby, I still appreciate that Bella is letting it wash over her because she clearly doesn't give a crap about the discussion. She's made her choice, and that's all that really matters to her.
Does that mean that I think Breaking Dawn The Movie is totes feminist? Not really. We've talked before that authors are not historians; they control their world, and they choose what to write. And writing up a scenario where a woman is in an incredibly dangerous and supernaturally strange pregnancy and refuses to hear word-one about abortion and is magically rewarded at the end with husband and baby and sparkly immortality for Winning The Game Of Patriarchy and Dying In Childbirth is rife with problematic issues. We will, in fact, discuss those issues at length over Breaking Dawn The Book, I'm sure.
But having said that, I don't think that Breaking Dawn The Movie is anti-choice. Or, maybe, I don't think it has to be read that way. I think it can be read as a woman saying look, this is a very strange situation and in the absence of any knowledge one way or another, here is the plan I want to follow. And then... her choice is slowly respected over the course of the movie. Most especially, her choice is eventually respected by Edward and Jacob, the two men who habitually have run rough-shod over her choices throughout this entire series.
Breaking Dawn The Movie is about Bella putting her foot down and saying, no, this is MY choice and then being right while Edward and Jacob were wrong all along. And I'm kind of okay with that a little.
In Which I Note That This Movie Is Incredibly Racist
Oh my god, there are so many things wrong with this movie in terms of race. Why did all 873 of the reviews focus on girl stuff and anti-choice and not mention that this movie is marinated in white privilege and racism? Where do I start?
Let's start with the housekeepers. The Cullens own this island, you see, because they are nauseatingly rich, but they can't be expected to do their own housework, so they hire some local People of Color to take care of the house while they're away. And the housekeepers -- a man and a woman... who are maybe married? -- pretty much know exactly what the Cullens are because c'mon, they sparkle in the sunlight.
So the Woman of Color has totally figured out that Edward is a vampire-demon-creature, but she's not worried for herself, or at least not so worried that she doesn't take a job cleaning his house. (Which is probably not a positive statement about poverty on the Cullen Family Island.) But despite the fact that she's pretty blase about her own safety, she panics and objects when she sees Bella because the pretty white girl is in danger.
Seriously? I guess it's... nice... that the housekeeper has such a big heart, but she has no idea who Bella is, or whether or not Bella is here of her own volition (she is) and fully understanding what can happen to her (she does). It's sort of this strange Noble Savage trope where the local native will grudgingly take on the dangerous job of cleaning the Vampire's home and laundering his sheets, but she'll risk everything to speak up on behalf of the pretty white girl.
And dang but she's got good eyes to be able to tell at a glance that Bella is human. Why are the Cullens able to pass as human, again?
But then... Bella gets pregnant. And Edward and Carlisle have a tense phone conversation that is basically how is this possible, I don't know, get home quick. And Edward immediately disappears 'round the bedroom door and hauls the housekeeper back in to see Bella because -- and this is almost a direct quote -- "Her people have legends. She might know about this sort of thing."
Edward and Carlisle have spent 100 years researching vampires, being that they are highly motivated to research their own kind. But they've never heard of a human-vampire hybrid because this is a totally new situation. But Random Housekeeper Woman, she will know! Why? Because she has dark skin. And this is really the definition of racism within characterization: the idea that because a person is a non-white race, they automatically have a shared culture of exotic myths and legends. And these legends are mostly about white people.
Later, when Edward was chartering a private plane and talking to a non-white person while doing so, I imagine he was asking the same thing all over again. "I notice you're not white. Do you have any legends about white women giving birth to human-vampire hybrids? No? Well, worth a shot."
But probably the worst part of the film is the depiction of the Quileutes a.k.a. The Local Werewolf Tribe.
Now, I realize there's a strong and proud tradition of making werewolf communities act like dogs. They have alpha males and pack leaders and Very Strict Rules and they settle arguments with brawls. I'm pretty sure that S. Meyer didn't come up with that herself.
But! There is also a common and Very Problematic tradition of doing the same thing to People of Color, and making them animalistic beasts who react passionately to everything and don't use logic or calm indoor voices. And I refuse to believe that no one on this film didn't think for a single second that having a group of People of Color behaving in primitive, uncivilized, violent ways in stark counterpoint to the White People Next Door who are all calm and logical and Spock-like was maybe Not A Good Idea.
Just about every time a werewolf is on screen, there is Race Fail. Jacob is hot-tempered and passionate and yells at Bella and grabs her arms and yanks her around while Edward is cool and logical and quietly protects Bella from her hot-tempered suitor. When Jacob passionately argues to the tribe that they need to intervene to save Bella, there is chest thumping and discussions of Who Is The Leader Here instead of logical arguments or rational thought.
Later in the movie, Jacob enters the Cullen house to see Bella and finds the family in distress. Bella is pregnant and dangerously ill. Alice and Edward want to abort the pregnancy; Rosalie does not. The family discusses the matter calmly and coolly and without raised voices or tempers. Pretty much the very next scene, juxtaposed with this one, is the werewolf community running passionately through the woods, biting and snapping and tearing at one another as they argue how to respond to the situation. There is yelling and emotional arguments and growling and brawling because This Is How Decisions Are Made. And all this is totally, completely, utterly problematic because it sets up the White Vampires as civilized and honorable and the Dark Werewolves as savage and violent.
When Jacob warns Carlisle that the werewolves are coming to attack, Carlisle nods sagely and announces that the vampires will not be the first to draw blood. "We will not break the treaty," he says nobly. "In Sam's mind, it's already been broken," Jacob urges. "But not in ours," Esme says primly. The White People will hold their end of the bargain, even if it costs their lives to the angry and violent Dark People.
This? Should not be hard to see. I don't know if S. Meyer wrote it this way, and I don't care. There are a million ways to portray this better, and Hollywood is nothing if not willing to edit the intellectual property it buys. The werewolves have a point: they think that Bella's baby will destroy Forks... somehow. It doesn't make sense, but the writers could have made it make sense. Instead they just went with Violent and Irrational Dark People are violent and irrational. Arrrrrgh.
Really, the pinnacle of Race Fail for me was near the end when the wolves have the Cullens cornered and Jacob tears out of the house in full wolf form and lands, snarling, to defend the Cullens. He's communicating to the wolves that he's imprinted on Reneesmee, which should make her off limits because the tribe respects imprinting to the point that it's their most absolute law that imprintees cannot be attacked, but despite the fact that we've had several scenes of wolves "talking" to us, the viewer, in this scene, we receive everything second-hand from Edward, who is reading Jacob's mind.
Yes. In the pivotal scene where a Dark Man defends the White People from the other Dark People, all the words and interactions of the Dark People are muted to us and instead filtered to the viewer through the White Spokesperson. Because that's how Dark Peoples' culture should be sampled, according to Hollywood: through White Eyes.
In Which I Run Out Of Steam And Sum Everything Up
Breaking Dawn The Movie.
Movie about girl subjects in a supernatural setting. Perfectly valid; great if you like that sort of thing.
Movie about female choice in a pregnancy plot. Problematic, but can be viewed as choice-positive.
Movie about noble housekeeping savages and violent neighbor savages. MAJOR RACE FAIL.