After months of teetotaling and near-constant moviegoing, the wait for ‘Twilight’s’ premiere was excruciating. More than anything, fans were eagerly anticipating the debut of the final installment in director Bill Condon’s epic vampire saga. Having watched and rewatched the first four films over the years, this fan base knew each and every scene that was coming. Yet, even then, the trailer for the latest film left fans in awe. Newcomers to the series might still be wondering what all the fuss is about.
What is it about Bella (played by Kristen Stewart) and her relationship with her wolf-like bloodsucker protector, Edward (Pattinson), that has kept fans so riveted? Why have these two films resonated with audiences worldwide? More importantly, why are they still setting moviebox theatres on fire decades after their initial release?
Here, we will attempt to answer these questions by exploring the key themes and motifs incorporated into each of the films.
Vampires And Werewolves
‘Twilight’ is often touted as a ‘love letter’ to British culture and architecture, paying homage to the classic novels of William Shakespeare and poet John Milton. The film opens in Victorian London, where we find ourselves in the middle of a bloody ‘wolf massacre’. Soon thereafter, we are introduced to our two main characters, Edward and Bella. Played by Hollywood royalty, Pattinson and Stewart are at the heart of the film, offering a glimpse into the complex dynamics between humans and creatures of the night. In doing so, they also give viewers a fascinating insight into the evolution of their character arcs.
We learn almost immediately that Edward and Bella are not simply meant to be side-by-side, battling for supremacy over each other’s throats. Instead, they are introduced as complete opposites: One is a human, the other is not. Indeed, it is at the beginning of the film that we learn about Bella’s parentage. Although she was born and raised in England, her father is American and her mother is Italian. Edward belongs to a species that has been around for thousands of years. He is a vampire. This explains his impenetrable resistance to sunlight and his predatory nature. He is a born killer, and his thirst for human blood is never slaked.
Bella is a different story. She is a normal human being, at least in the sense that she follows the rules. Living in London, she has somehow managed to stay away from the spotlight, avoiding the glare of the paparazzi. She has led a quiet, uneventful life, unaware of her extraordinary destiny. Despite being attracted to Edward, she does not want to be involved with a creature of the night. She is determined to live a ‘normal’ life. Unfortunately, fate has other plans. When Bella steps into the spotlight to attend her sister’s wedding, she is forced to confront her true identity. Forced to choose between her humanity and her vampirism, she must choose one side or the other. If she continues down the darker path, her life will become a living hell. Suffering from insomnia and acute anxiety, she will be driven to the edge, before she finally makes the ultimate sacrifice to atone for her sins.
The film’s visual style is sumptuous, incorporating lush British countryside, gothic architecture, and old London townhouses. Director Bill Condon has clearly soaked up as much of the period literature as he could, and crafted a cinematic ode to everything that is hauntingly romantic and gloriously nostalgic about England and its people. The result is a work of Art that will be cherished by fans of the franchise and those simply wishing to be transported away to a quieter time.
Love, Pain And Sacrifice
Since its premiere, audiences have been hooked by the transformative power of Bella and Edward’s love story. Set against the backdrop of an epidemic that turns human beings into blood-thirsty monsters, the audience is drawn into the unfolding drama through the tension between the lovers. Their conflict is representative of a wider theme in the series: The struggle for self-determination in the face of oppression. Against the odds, their burgeoning love is rewarded with an ‘act of magic’. A single tear becomes the lens through which we view their entire relationship. From the very first scene, we know that even the most epic relationship is not immune to heartbreak. Indeed, ‘Twilight’ is deeply concerned with the fragility of romantic love.
The novel on which the film is based was, in fact, named after this very motif: ‘The Twilight Saga: Love And Pain’. Its central story arc is about a young woman named Alice who goes blind during a freak hailstorm. Although she has lost her sight, she continues to live her life to the fullest. She is determined to hold on to the love she has for her family and friends, even if it means denying the existence of the special someone who has become her world. What happens to Alice is ultimately heartbreaking. Her desperate attempts to hold on to ‘the gift that keeps on giving’, only to discover that it was, in fact, a curse. In the end, she has to make a choice: Live in blissful ignorance, or embrace her fate and allow herself to be destroyed by her love. This sums up ‘Twilight’s’ central theme. Love is tempting, but only if you are prepared to pay the cost. For some, this can be a choice not to be made. For others, it is a choice that is made every day.
Pattinson and Stewart are at the forefront of a wave of young British actors looking to shake off the trappings of their big-city fame. Although he has starred in some of the most iconic films of the past two decades, this is undoubtedly Pattinson’s ‘coming out party’, as it were. Having established himself as one of Britain’s most eligible bachelors, he is finally available for the dating game. Following the premiere of ‘Twilight’, he began a romance with music historian Helen Mirren. This was followed by a very public engagement to American actress and writer Chloë Grace. The couple wed in late 2017. Since then, fans have been waiting with baited breath for news of their first child. The couple are also expecting their second child, a daughter, in May of this year.
Vulnerable And Brave
Although ‘Twilight’ is the first film in the series, it is by no means the most conventional of the lot. It was initially intended to be a more ‘traditional’ vampire film. In fact, the very first draft of the screenplay was entitled ‘The Vampyre’. The change in direction that the screenplay underwent was largely down to Stewart, who initially turned down the role of Bella. After reading the script, however, she knew that this was a story that she wanted to be a part of. In a sense, she also helped to usher in a new era for the franchise. One that was more grounded in reality, less concerned with lavish sets and special effects.
Not often seen in ‘vampire films’, Stewart’s Bella is a thoroughly modern woman, in touch with her feelings and highly articulate. She is a strong-willed character, not given to hysterics or melodrama. This change in attitude is down to Stewart’s own mother, Frances, who portrayed the role of Aunt Bella in the 2006 miniseries adaptation of ‘The Twilight Saga’. In this telling, Stewart’s Bella is introduced as a rebellious, rule-breaking teenager, who is unafraid to speak her mind. She is also shown to have a healthy respect for her elders. These are all qualities that Stewart imbues her character with. It is clear from the outset that Bella wants nothing more than to fit in and be accepted by her peers. This is a common theme in young Stewart’s work. From her breakout role in 2006’s ‘London Bridge’, to her subsequent portrayal of Emily Thorne in ‘Wolves’. It is an unapologetic celebration of female autonomy.
This new ‘Twilight’, however, is very different from the first film that was released 16 years ago. For a start, it is far more contemporary in feeling. The majority of the film was actually shot during 2014 on a tightly restricted budget. It is a lean and mean production, offering a real sense of intimacy and realism. The look and feel of the film is also reminiscent of the Sundance Film Festival. Curiously, this is also the setting for ‘Paddington’, which is another story about an unlikely and endearing friendship between a bear and a bear-like man. Directed and co-written by Michael Grace, the film premiered at the Festival in January of this year. Like ‘Twilight’, ‘Paddington’ is set in London during the winter months, albeit at the beginning of the century rather than the 21st century.