Twilight ★★★½

I find discomfort in the idea of engaging with a work with the objective of deriding the creator's efforts and intentions as such an engagement is so often driven by a mundane cruelty or desire to confirm mass consensus (both of these with schoolyard origins). A friend convinced me to watch Twilight as its value lies not in its ability to be ridiculed, but in its individual weirdness as a piece of popular cinema. She was right. Not once does the film shoot for (and fall short of, as critics had me believe) the mystery-driven adventure of something like the Harry Potter series, nor the naive/macabre art-goth stylisations of Let the Right One In. It is for the most part committed entirely to teen girl fantasy, ever-drenched in the damp atmosphere of a shithole town, with little interest in following cinematic convention.

Prior to reading the Twilight Wikipedia page I was convinced that Catherine Hardwicke had worked as a television director before moving into cinema, and that Stephanie Meyer was home-schooled. As it transpires Hardwicke directed the much-loved films Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown before Twilight, and Meyer attended the same high school as Busy Phillips (!). Twilight's depiction of the high school experience is eerily smooth, non-specific, and full of red herrings, but Hardwicke's confidently loose pacing almost pulls it together in the style of an unimportant but vaguely fond memory (you might recall primary school in this way if you were not 'gifted' but basically got by just fine waiting for holidays, weekends, and lunchtimes). Conventionally Romantic literature might have relegated the school to a background detail accounting for what Bella as a seventeen year old does during the week, and had the lovers' interactions take place in evenings or even weekends, but one of the Twilight series' enduring concerns is an almost egalitarian approach to what does and does not matter, offering the same screen-time to weird mundane shit as to inspired supernatural romance. The other purpose of the uncanny high school is that it defines Bella's angst in a way that is safe. She is immediately welcomed into a group of of teen archetypes when she arrives, each one standing in for a conflict that she will not have: the jock ensures that she will not be bullied, the preppy one that class will not be an issue, the popular one that she will not be ostracised. Her feelings of alienation are not due to any discernable feature in her character, nor to some event or series of events actioned by anyone or anything, but by the absence of her satisfaction or even dissatisfaction for these people and what they represent.

This having but not having, this definition by way of absence, is wholly embraced by Hardwicke who paces the film like a mid-afternoon nap. I had not considered it before but there must be some correlation between high school ennui and dull television, because Twilight both feels like the experience of watching Sunday afternoon television and the Sunday afternoon television programme itself. Each scene is given the same attention and duration, whether the subject is Bella going on a field trip, a family of vampires playing baseball during a thunderstorm, or a tree-top declaration of love. This could make for a film that is jarring or worse, boring, but these (often contradictory) pieces are held together by an atmosphere of dampness and generic teen-angst which makes the film feel more like life-remembered than life-experienced. This is not to say that Twilight sets out to do Sans Soleil for teens, but its structure is effectively Bergson re-tooled for an age-group for whom nostalgia is starting to take on serious weight. The future is indeterminate and the past with all its warmth is gone forever (a theme further explored in New Moon where Bella attempts to re-live her childhood). Had I been younger and more open-minded when Twilight was released I might have learned something about the sick-stomach dizziness I had been feeling for years and didn't know how to describe. The idea that teens have been given access to something approachable before they bump into Antonioni further down the track to make them feel less alone in their sad-not-sadness warms my heart.

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