Most of us are aware of the ‘Twilight’ phenomenon. The recent Hollywood teen vampire romantic comedy series has spawned a worldwide audience and created a cultural icon in its star, Robert Pattinson.
While the series is famous for its cheeky humour and steamy on-screen kisses, it is also notable for the complex relationship it explores between vampires and their human companions.
Pattinson’s character Edward Cullen is a typical ‘Twilight’ hero: charming, good-looking and possessing a captivating charisma. Much like the actor himself, Edward is able to persuade his way of life onscreen, garnering both fans and detractors alike. He is a vampire, but does not crave human blood, choosing instead to sate his lust on the women he encounters. Even the heroine of the series, Bella, falls under his spell.
But Edward’s seemingly effortless good looks and magnetic personality are not the only things that set him apart from other vampire heroes. Edward is also highly intelligent, having been gifted with extraordinary ‘people skills’. He is deeply empathetic, having learned to understand and connect with the human emotions of those around him. This makes him not only formidable as a person, but also an effective leader.
Edward has a close bond with his younger brother, Charlie, who assists him in fulfilling their father’s dying wish to ensure the continuation of the family name. Together, Edward and Charlie are the epitome of perfect ‘cousins’, frequently referred to by fans and critics as “Richemont’s Golden Boys”, due to the similar resemblance between the two men.
While the character of Edward has certainly proved popular, it is his brother, Charlie, who draws many parallels to real-life brother Robert. The British actor has had a long career in Hollywood dating back to the early 2000s. In 2016, he shared with Redbook magazine that his fame had not gone to his head, and that his brother still preferred his real-life identity to his onscreen counterpart:
“It’s funny because people think that when you’re on camera talking about a big movie that you’re acting. But, actually, when you’re off-camera, that’s when you really act. Because you get to really show your acting skills. But when you’re on camera, you kind of just have to do what they say. And that’s it. So, in that way, it’s quite nice being famous because you get to do things on your own terms.”
The series also explores another important theme in the Pattinson household: mental illness. Edward’s cousin, Victoria, is the most prominent character in the series, suffering from Schizophrenia and portraying the illness with vivid realism. The actress has openly discussed her own struggles with the disease.
It was initially reported that actress Kristen Stewart had a nervous breakdown while filming the fourth season of ‘Twilight’, in 2012. The 27-year-old later issued a statement confirming the reports, but also distancing herself from the rumors. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Stewart explained that while “mentally [she had] been through a lot” during her time on-set, she was ultimately “happy with the finish product”, and that her “health and well-being [were] completely fine”.
The rumors likely stemmed from a combination of Stewart’s on-set antics – which included falling asleep on-camera – and the onus she places on herself as an actress. Stewart is known to place pressure on herself to live up to the high standards set by her famous co-stars, and it is clear that some of what she experiences in the series is an actual reflection of her personal life. Indeed, in an interview with the Guardian, she discussed how she is “always thinking about [her] craft” when working on the franchise and credits her ability to compartmentalise to film-makers who inspired her in her early years:
“I think that a lot of [Twilight’s influence] came from ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. I saw that and was like, ‘This is what I want to do’.”
In the series, Charlie frequently stands in for his mentally ill father, John, who plays a prominent role in the first two films. Some biographers have speculated that John’s portrayal is an extension of his own personal experiences with the disease. In 2013, the actor publicly opened up about his father’s experience with mental illness, explaining that he had originally wanted to call the character Daddy in the screenplay, but his mother had objected.
“It was very important to her that he was a good father and husband. And it was important to me that he was a good brother,” he explained during an interview with the Telegraph. “So, I didn’t want to ruin that.”
Perhaps sensing this connection between Charlie’s dad and her character, actress Victoria picks up on it, often referring to John when talking to Charlie about his mental health issues, as in:
“You know, if it wasn’t for your father, none of this would exist. So I think it’s only fair that you look after him a little bit, especially since he’s not really well.”
Charlie is one of the most prominent characters in the series, appearing in all but one of the eight films to date. While he does not own a motorcycle, as his onscreen counterpart, Damon, does in the movies, he drives a Ferrari California as his main mode of transport.
According to People magazine, there is also a scene in the upcoming ‘Twilight’ film where Charlie drives a Porsche. However, there is no actual Ferrari California in the scene, and the car the actor is shown driving is, in fact, a modified Porsche.
It is interesting to note the choice of Ferrari as the characteristically extravagant automobile of choice for Charlie. It was originally thought that he would be driven by Maserati, another Italian brand. But when the location of the film’s final scene was revealed as London earlier this year, many wondered if the actor would be driven to work by his favourite brand, Bentley. It seems that he has chosen the better, or perhaps the more expensive, of the two.
Charlie’s character arc throughout the series sees him maturing from a selfish and egotistical younger brother into a responsible and protective older brother. This arc is represented in real life by the actor, who previously turned down an opportunity to play Henry VIII in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, explaining that he did not want to portray a “divorced man in his forties”. He also turned down the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ due to working commitments.
A Role Model For Generation Z?
It is a well-established fact that ‘Twilight’ was originally intended for a teen audience. Indeed, several interviews with the actor confirm this, with him citing its success among his young adult fan base as one of the key reasons for its enduring popularity.
While the series does not glorify or glamorise addiction or mental illness, it is clear that these disorders are present in every aspect of the characters’ lives, and that they are influential in the way that Edward and his relatives live their lives.
Certainly, parts of the series are comedic relief, but as with any high profile television show or movie, the series’ serious themes are a feature, not a bug.
When discussing ‘Twilight’s’ influence, it is not just the characters who have stayed in the public imagination, but the entire series. Many of the situations and dialogue are iconic, and they continue to be quoted or referenced years after the show’s premiere. Even now, with the eighth and final film having just been released, fans are drawn to parodies such as ‘Bromance’ – a 2017 comedy about two vampires – because they understand the references and can laugh along with the jokes. In this way, ‘Twilight’ remains a show whose influence continues to resonate years after its premiere.
A Self-aware Attempt To Examine Mental Health Issues
‘Twilight’ is undoubtedly a guilty pleasure for many, and one of the things that makes it so accessible to viewers is precisely because it examines mental health issues in such a self-aware manner.
The series highlights such a wide array of conditions that it could be described as “mentally ill”. It includes well-known disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but it also examines the less visible – and, in some cases, more common – issues that many people struggle with behind closed doors. It is a reflection of reality, and, in some cases, a show that is so well-executed and compelling that it feels more like a documentary than fiction.