The Twilight Saga: New Moon, like last year’s Twilight, is critic-proof. We film critics don’t get it, this film isn’t for us, and the fans will love it. However, none of that means New Moon isn’t worthy of humorous derision or concerned analysis of the disturbing subtext. New Moon is a bad movie which fails on nearly every level, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating. The series is one of the most popular young adult stories of the last decade yet the movie, which wouldn’t dare make radical changes to the book, lacks so much: a strong female protagonist, subtlety, joy, a positive message to young women, and above all, shirts. The men of New Moon need shirts.
The film opens with the 18th birthday of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), one of the most vapid and irritating protagonists in recent memory. While most teenagers would be happy to be hitting their 18th (guns and voting!), Bella can do nothing but sulk and quiver in the presence of her dreamy, pale-skinned, cold vampire love-muffin, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). In a vain attempt to make Bella smile for at least a second, her best friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) gives her a dream catcher and must explain to her what it does because the film considers her that freaking stupid, although she certainly is. Bella and Edward whisper to each other during class and he tells her how he wish he knew how to kill himself. Happy Birthday.
Later that night, rather than spend any time celebrating with her father or her human friends, Bella enjoys (which means she sulks a little less) the company of the Cullen family, all vampires and not blood related other than they all live together and suck animal blood to survive. Unfortunately, Bella becomes the first person in human history to get a paper cut from unwrapping a present and one of the Cullens goes nuts and tries to attack her, Edward protects her by accidentally throwing her into furniture thus giving her an even worse injury. Dr. Cullen, the family’s patriarch, patches her up and Bella mentions that they wouldn’t have to worry about this if Edward changed her into a vampire. Dr. Cullen remarks that he and his family are damned and that changing her would make her soulless. Remember kids: when Bella says she wants Edward to “change her” it is a metaphor for an 18 year old girl wanting her boyfriend to take her virginity. Edward, who looks like he’s either going to or coming from a GQ photo shoot, protests. In fact, the following day Edward (after breaking into her room while she’s not at home), says he’s leaving in order to protect her and that he never wants to see her again.
Bella then shuts down completely and her break-up causes her to become catatonic interspersed with night terrors. This is odd because not only do teenage break-ups rarely cause such extreme reactions (at least in healthy, well-adjusted teenagers), neither Twilight nor in this movie do we see what Bella is missing. What makes Edward special other than his looks and brooding demeanor? There’s nothing substantial to miss and what Twilight and New Moon fail to do is convince us that infatuation is love. But infatuation isn’t love; it’s a negative manifestation of a fantasy. I understand the teenage love thing when your emotions are so strong that you feel like there’s nothing more important in the entire world. But New Moon keeps mistaking that for true love and that Edward and Bella are a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. I know this because at the beginning of the film, Bella’s reading Romeo & Juliet and she’s supposed to write a paper on Romeo & Juliet and Edward’s birthday-downer-suicide monologue is during a class where the teacher is showing a movie adaptation of Romeo & Juliet. Subtlety, thy name is anything other than New Moon.
Director Chris Weitz brings three skills to New Moon that Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke sorely lacked: the ability to shoot a movie without a blue filter, well-shot action scenes, and convincing special effects as far as the animals are concerned. But Weitz makes Hardwicke look like Bergman when it comes to subtlety. There are moments in New Moon where I laughed out loud because I thought I was supposed to. I thought Weitz was mocking this overwrought teenage love story by using the cheesiest and clichéd images imaginable like running through fields and laying in a meadow. But he’s playing it completely straight and while Twilight fans are eating it up, the rest of us are trying to balance slack-jawed amazement with hysterical laughter. Those moments are at least a reprieve from the Bella’s unrelenting misery.
After five months of dealing with a break-up that should’ve caused hospitalization, Bella finally drags herself out of the house only to discover that the only way she can see Edward is if she behaves recklessly, because before Edward left he told her not to be reckless. But when she does behave recklessly, Edward tells her that she promised him she wouldn’t and she stops because Bella Swan can’t think for herself or do anything which does not relate to a dominant man. Also, when she sees Edward, he appears as a cheesy ghost effect which, again, I could not believe they were using. I understand that they need a way to keep Pattinson around despite his character’s absence for the majority of the film, but reappearing as ghost mist? Did Weitz think his audience was so dense that they would think a non-misty Edward would actually be there? And this audience has read the book so they already know he’s not really there!
Thankfully, Bella discovers that she can cling to the other hot man in her life, Jacob. The beginning of their relationship is one of the few bright spots in New Moon as the two flirt, joke around, and have personalities. Furthermore, Lautner has charm and charisma which is more than I can say for Pattinson whose performance consists of pensively looking at the ground, sadly looking down at the ground, and bashfully looking down at the ground.
But soon the film realizes the horrible abomination of having a likable character and soon Jacob joins up with the bad boys who don’t wear shirts. It turns out Jacob and the shirtless bad boys are werewolves. The shirtless wolf pack is the film’s best unintentional running gag. No matter the weather, location, or situation, these men will not wear shirts. I know these guys want to show off their pecks and washboard abs, but you don’t have to show them off all the time. There’s a scene that takes place in a torrential downpour where Bella is pleading with a shirtless Lautner to stay with her and not go off with the bad boys. It’s really quite an amazing scene as you can actually see Lautner developing pneumonia.
Bella’s absolutely dependence on men is where I leave the silliness of New Moon behind and begin to actively loathe the property and what it stands for. This past summer, I dropped my unnecessary hatred toward Twilight fans because their infatuation with cute guys is harmless and nothing new to contemporary American culture. I accepted the following of older fans because I assumed they recognized the series as harmless fantasy and nothing more. But I didn’t lose my hatred of the books and the message they give to young women and New Moon pushed me to start questioning what was appealing about this fantasy.
Bella is a reactive character and her every action is based on what either Edward or Jacob does. She behaves recklessly, not as a way to escape from her pain, but so she can keep seeing ghost-Edward. Later, she tries to kill herself and then cover it up with the excuse she was cliff-diving. But even that isn’t as disturbing as when Jacob confesses to Bella that now because he’s a werewolf, just a split second of anger could cause him to lose control and seriously hurt her. Her response: “That will never happen because I will always tell you how special you are.” This is a girl who will never argue or even question a man she loves because otherwise he may lose control and beat her to within an inch of her life. It won’t be his fault; he just has a monster inside him he can’t control. And why does Edward leave? Because he’s afraid his presence will hurt Bella. Of course, his big realization is that by leaving Bella, he put her in more harm.
Here are six words you will never hear Bella Swan say: “I can take care of myself.” This is the protagonist of one of the best-selling books today. I know author Stephanie Meyer is a Mormon and I find her belief system provides a sickening subtext to her work. While Mormonism isn’t the only religion to promoted abstinence, I find it an absurd and counter-productive response to burgeoning sexuality. It’s blatant religious patrimony to tell young women that all sex before marriage is wrong, even if she wants to, is over 18, and her boyfriend isn’t pressuring her. If a couple wants to wait until marriage to have sex, I have no problem with that. I have a problem with painting an ideal man as an asexual protector who treats his girlfriend like a child and that if they have sex before they get married, “changing” her will make her lose her soul.
And that’s not even what I find most offensive! I am appalled that there’s not even a hint of a moment where Bella has an interest of her own other than whether or not a man can protect her and what she can do to serve him. I find it offensive that Bella is so selfish that she doesn’t care if she hurts her kind and devoted father or pulls away from people who were supposedly her friends. Parents, is this really the kind of role model you want for your child? And women who see this as fantasy, is this really what you find exhilarating? I understand attraction to hot guys but plenty of other movies and stories offer that without the repulsive moral values.
There are moments I don’t hate New Moon. I like the action scenes, the cinematography, the werewolf CGI, Taylor Lautner (when he’s not brooding), and that they made up an action movie called “Face Punch”, which I would totally see based on the title alone. But two questions about the movie remain at the forefront of my mind: how troubling it is that this movie will most likely gross over $200 million while having such repulsive messages; and why won’t someone give these hot Native Americans some shirts?
Rating —– F