This is a really short article as I am writing a longer one, but just wanted to stick my oar into the Twilight debate now raging here. There are lots of reasons why Twilight has become a phenomenal success. One being its reworking of the Romeo and Juliet story. There is an argument that is nothing new and that all novels are based on twenty-five plots. That isn’t really the point here though and it doesn’t have anything to do with plagiarism. Think of Shakespeare as an influence, his works form a large part of the modern psyche and as such he is everywhere in literature today.
The story of Romeo and Juliet in a very small nutshell for anyone who hasn’t seen the play. Boy and Girl meet, they fall in love, but can’t be together because their families are feuding. They hatch a plan it goes wrong and they both end up dead. I did say a very small nutshell. If you get a chance to see the play it is beautiful.
What does this have to do with Twilight? Edward and Bella, I have only seen the film so excuse my ignorance, meet and fall in love. Edward and Bella are from two clans human and vampire, however there is a third clan the werewolves and I’m sure if I’d read the books I could make this argument stronger but I am just using the film for this article as I’m not a keen reader of teenage novels myself. So we have one of the most enduring love stories of all time, young love destined to be apart because of their family loyalties. A tragedy given a modern twist that turns Romeo into a vampire, but gives the couple the same struggles to overcome. In Shakespeare’s play the fight action is supplied by fiery Tybault, my favourite character, in Twilight it is James and we have the villain of the piece. There has to be a villain.
Now I have been told that in the novels there is a happy ending of sorts where Bella is finally turned. Modern audiences tend to expect a happy ending and I know that some young readers were dissatisfied with this ending as Edward looses the moral high ground finally and his virginity. It doesn’t really matter because all that counts in this type of fiction is the characters, as it is what drives the novel, rather than plot or a quest. The other type of fiction, I might add that is character driven is romance, this is what Twilight is. Forget the vampires they are just window dressing, a vehicle of sorts for the lovers to inhabit. Since Anne Rice published her ground-braking novel Interview with the Vampire and Joss Whelen took his low budget film and turned it into a television blockbuster anyone with slightly tired genre is revamping it with vampires.
In the past Shakespeare’s plays have been the basis for a musical, West Side Story and a teen high school saga, 10 things I hate about you. Romeo and Juliet has been made into films on numerous occasions the last time starring Leonardo De Caprio, I personally didn’t like it, but I know lots of people who normally don’t like Shakespeare that did. Back to Twilight, Bella like Juliet is dying poisoned by the venom from James’ is bite. Does she die; no there wouldn’t have been a sequel if she had. Unlike Romeo, Edward saves her. Our dead Romeo proves his love by giving her back her life as a human.
There is one scene for me that makes the comparison complete, when Bella stands at the window waiting for Edward. Whether you love or hate Twilight doesn’t really matter. It is different things to different people, but it is a product of our time. Do I as a mother of a teenage daughter object to a film where the vampire is a metaphor for virginity and abstinence, are you kidding I love it. Do I as a feminist object to the characterisation of the weak female who must be protected even from herself, I object strongly to that aspect of the film. I think the mistake the Twilight backlash will make is that it will be directed at the vampire not the tired metaphor it represents. In this film the only whole family are the Cullen. Bella comes from a broken home you never see any women or mothers apart from Bella’s and Edwards. The comparison is not good. Mrs Cullen is married to a doctor and is a stay at home mom. Bella’s mother has left her husband and married a minor league baseball player. She chooses to go on the road taking the stability from the teenage Bella’s life just at a time that society expects mothers to be a role model to its daughters. Everything in this film screams morality not immortality.
If I was recommending a vampire film Interview with the Vampire still does it for me. I like my vampires less like the boy next door myself. Anne Rice ran out of steam with her later books and I think that is the thing about the vampire. Although Twilight is successful now it will not last. Will Twilight put a stake in the vampire’s heart for this generation? I hope not. The vampire has visited every genre thinkable in novels, films and television, perhaps now is the time to take the vampire home to horror and bring the fear back to his fangs.