Bella Swan Wants It: The Vampire Role Reversal
Of all the vampires prowling the screen these days, the thirstiest creature of all isn’t a vampire, it’s a teenage girl. In “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” seventeen year old Bella pins her one hundred and four year old vampire boyfriend to the bed and finally just pleads with him. She’s sick of hearing about her soul, she’s done with fending off red-eyed armies. By this scene in the trilogy she has reached a point of desperation, and when in one of the films pivotal moments Edward pauses yet again, having made it only one button down on her button-down shirt, she says, wincing: “just try.”
What ever happened to count Dracula seducing a young girl in a low-cut dress somewhere in Transylvania? I guess chivalry really is dead. The twentieth century is to thank for slaying a lot of the discrimination inherent in worshiping a woman, but this attack on tradition definitely has taken some of the fun out of things. Courting a lady used to take more time than most marriages do these days, and that fact isn’t lost on Bella. “Being with me would be like breathing” Jacob the werewolf assures her, putting her hand on his brawny chest. “That’s blood and breath and warmth, Bella. That’s life.” Yet our main character is not so turned on by all that. She’s not interested in a lover who doesn’t hold for her hoops of fire, brimstone, or otherwise. She doesn’t want to be loved for who she is and what she knows but instead wrangled through a process of becoming. That’s first love, isn’t it? Vertigo, terror, head rushes, the works. So what better person to witness the job than an effeminate, old school vampire with all the time in the world? Edward offers Bella the kind of chivalry that allows her to lean out over the threshold of her own darkness, and marvel at the risk of its depth, without immediately falling. Her passion takes place on the periphery of sex, in a kind of supernatural Petri-dish perfect for teenage audiences. With Bella’s neck tilted back, Edward’s mouth an inch away from her throat, there is a definite magnetism at play but also a choice. Edward will not force Bella to marry him. He is enough of a monster to attract her, man enough to take no for an answer, and gentleman enough to make it all very difficult to decide. He is a dark knight of the highest caliber, in the most modern and classical sense, offering women and girls all over the world the best of their modern and old fashioned desires. No wonder he is a best seller.
Upon first glance “Eclipse” satisfies some unfortunate cravings for entertainment: Jacob the werewolf or Edward the vampire; what’s a girl to do? Yet a vein has been struck, for lack of a better term, and the mythic quest of becoming oneself has been reborn on a twenty first century screen. In a time when young girls are facing more and more freedoms and fewer and fewer obstacles to sex, Bella’s certainty makes her an interesting heroine, not just for teenage girls and twenty somethings (like me) but my thirty something and forty something friends. When Bella pulls a vampire onto the bed, her desire for him is a result of his charm, his baggage, but mostly the risk he entails. After the good old fashioned, up-hill-both-ways path of struggle, she is sure of what she wants. Her assurance in this scene is rare in a current climate that so highly values the power of female choice, yet places a dwindling amount of importance on the taxing road to its discovery. For those of us who have followed Bella, after just a few stressful years of courting a vampire, she’s ready to sink her teeth in. She has never been so confidently herself and so wholeheartedly starved.
While the conservative, (and religious) elements in this story are not hard to find, there is an undeniable and refreshing reversal of gender roles that makes “Eclipse” a new take on an old story. And regardless of what you were hankering for, the whole thing is mixed up with just enough messy vampire politics, chic off-grey athletic gear, and Black Keys appearances on the soundtrack, to not only accommodate but thrill an enormous audience. For the time being, and perhaps forever, the old vampire myth has gone stale for the new blood army of movie goers and been usurped by a story of human thirst. It’s Dracula’s turn to lay awake at night and worry about what young girl, on fire with certainty, awaits him in his chamber.
Photo by Sparkle in the sun
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