Breaking Dawn has tenuous relationship with its own heteronormativity
Can't Think Straight
Twitter user georgelazenby, who is almost certainly not the actor best known for playing James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but rather an anonymous Californian writing insane but often intelligent 140-character gems, tweeted this on Saturday night:
“Found satire–n. 1: a thing made in earnest but which assumes the form its own parody would take.”
If he hadn’t appended a link to a PolitiChicks video to his tweet, you’d almost think he was talking about the Twilight saga.
The Twilight saga, an earnestly made, heteronormative coming-of-age tale of men as heroes and women as victims that takes itself so seriously that it ends up just becoming a parody of itself, a self-satirizing nightmare.
Breaking Dawn follows in its predecessors’ footsteps but is a little more, having circled from being blissfully naive about its self-satirizing nature to becoming truly self-aware and actively engaging in self-satire. Breaking Dawn becomes a film that actively plays to the expectations of both its fanbase and its haters. If the general mood of Twilight – in terms of its relationship to Bella and to its own style – was one of ignorance, then Breaking Dawn is about awareness.
Most critics have written off the film as just a simple boy-meets-girl that reinforces the heteronormative establishment. But there’s a telling moment early on in the film where, in a flashback, Edward is shown killing a man in a theatre that’s showing Bride of Frankenstein. All metaphors of Edward as monster and Bella as his monster bride aside, the meta-filmic representation of this film makes us only too aware of the very fact that we’re watching a movie, and that this movie, like Bride of Frankenstein, has its own cultural impact.
Breaking Dawn plays for camp. The story is deadpan serious, and actually quite immersive. The beginning was rather dry, but once the story dug into the moral, ethical, legal, and spiritual dilemmas of Bella’s pregnancy, it became an immersive tale about the issues of unplanned pregnancy and abortion.
But, as Roger Ebert has noted, Breaking Dawn is also about the view that gay, lesbian, and transgender couples, though they can maybe fall in love, can’t reproduce.
It’s heavy stuff for something that most critics have written off as pandering.
What makes this film a difficult film to comprehend is the fact that you don’t know how the hell Breaking Dawn managed to be self-aware enough to be pleasing for all the wrong reasons, but serious enough to be a satisfyingly immersive story. It oscillates between a believable level of seriousness and a completely over-the-top, campy sort of faux-seriousness so effectively that right up until the very last shot, you can’t help but wonder if the whole film was just one big joke.
The shots immediately preceding the final credits are completely deadpan serious – so serious, in fact, that when the camera slowly pans toward one of the Cullens, the mostly teenage audience began to snicker, and when the camera began to float over Bella’s closed eyes, whispers of “she’s going to open her eyes” permeated the theatre. Cut to the completely garish red, black, and white credits with a upbeat pop number that runs counter to the seriousness we’ve just been exposed to for the last two hours, and everything you thought you knew about Twilight is thrown into disarray.
The end credits are remarkably similar to the credits of Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick’s garish credits were complete with Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain” playing over top, which acted as a scathing counterpoint to the violent and sexual imagery that we were just berated with for the last two hours.
Breaking Dawn could be director Bill Condon’s A Clockwork Orange. We were just subjected to the most horrifically grueling two hours in terms of both horrific content and sheer seriousness, and Condon, ever the genius, pushes us in a playful direction. Breaking Dawn actually messes with what we consider Twilight by buying into its themes and dominant images so heavily that it becomes self-satirizing. I find it hard to believe that Condon, being openly gay himself, would uncritically buy into the heteronormativity inherent in the Twilight saga, and so his final move of the film reveals the joke of it all: Breaking Dawn isn’t about Edward and Bella, but about the very culture that allows Edward and Bella to exist.