It’s November 21, 2008, and the atmosphere is buzzing. I’m in a movie theater with about 200 others (99% women) waiting for the premiere of the film adaptation of Twilight, the vampire love story based on the 2005 Stephanie Meyer novel.
I really need to stop and set the scene for you here, because this was a passionate bunch. A woman in the front row sat next to a cardboard cutout of Robert Pattinson (I assume she bought him a ticket for the sold-out show). Various theatergoers wore their allegiance with “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” t-shirts. I, myself, wasn’t quite at the cardboard or t-shirt level of fandom, but I had read all the books and made my choice between competing teams (Team Jacob, in case you were wondering).
Gen Z may not be able to fully relate to the impassioned fans of Twilight — or Twihards, if you will — but I know my fellow millennials remember this time well. A lip-biting Kristen Stewart, a sparkly Cedric Diggory, a horrifying CGI talking baby (sorry, spoiler alert for movie five): We were all fully on board.
For a refresher, Twilight tells the love story of 17-year-old Bella Swan, a shy high schooler who moves from sunny Arizona to Forks, Washington, to live with her dad. On her first day at Forks High School, she meets Edward Cullen and immediately notices a few strange things about her new classmate. She soon learns that Edward is a 103-year-old vampire, and the two begin a forbidden romance that draws Bella deeper into Edward’s world.
As a teenager, this was the height of romance. Forbidden love? A glittering Robert Pattinson? We recognized it was a little campy, but above all, we were there for the romance of Bella and Edward (and the eventual love triangle when werewolf Jacob Black gets involved). Anyways, fast forward nearly 15 years, and I sit here having just rewatched Twilight for the first time in over a decade. And, hold on tight, spider monkeys, because I have a lot to say.
Bella has zero agency.
Dear reader, if you are still hardcore shipping Bella and Edward, please forgive me for what I’m about to say… but the romance is horrible. As a teen, forbidden romance was incredibly sexy and thrilling. As a grown adult, I wanted to scream at the centenarian Edward to find someone his own age instead of preying on high school girls (and watching them sleep at night?!).
Yes, I know we are dealing with the fantasy element here of an immortal soul trapped in the body of a teenager. And the forbidden love is not just the age difference but also the fact that Edward desperately craves Bella’s blood and is constantly in fear of “losing control” around her. But, Bella, girl, love yourself!
The fact of the matter is Bella has absolutely zero agency as a character. The girl is essentially an empty vessel meant to serve as a fill-in for anyone watching to put themselves in her place. And this was very cringey to watch as an adult with 15 extra years of experience since my last viewing.
Bella’s only real want and desire throughout the whole movie (and series, lbr) is Edward. She very quickly gives up her friends, family, and overall life for the chance to live forever with an immortal being. And, babe, I’ve known the cereal in my pantry longer than you’ve known this man. Let’s calm down.
The Cullens chose everything wrong with immortality.
If you could live forever, what would you do? I am willing to bet that your answer is not choosing to relive high school again and again for a century. The Cullen “children” all have been attending high school repeatedly for decades. For whatever reason, this was a fact I was willing to overlook as a teenager fresh out of high school. As an adult, I found it seriously strange.
Surely, at a certain point, high school would be… very boring, no? If education is important, think of all the different degrees they could have earned! They could all have gotten their PhDs 20 times over instead of slumming it in high school biology for the umpteenth time.
Taking out the romance, this is a camp classic.
OK, OK, I have a confession to make. If you take out the icky romance and the overwhelming melodrama, one major thing remains — a genuinely fun watch. Honestly! As I got over my initial shock that I ever found these movies romantic, I had the best time watching this campy goodness.
And how could I not? There is an entire dramatic baseball scene set to early aughts music! There’s a scene where Edward glistens in the sunlight and, without a drop of irony, says he has the “skin of a monster.” I even found myself rewinding and rewatching the “meet cute” scene where Edward and Bella first interact. Bella walks into the classroom where Edward is sitting, and he immediately grabs his nose in repulsion at his desire for her scent. Truly, Joey Tribbiani would be proud of the IRL “smell the fart acting” on display here.
All in all, I fully recommend rewatching Twilight again as an adult. While the romance is entirely cringeworthy, when you watch it with a far less austere point of view, the rest of the film is the perfect camp watch for a night in with friends. Now, excuse me while I go marathon the rest of this series with fresh eyes.