Full disclosure: I haven’t read the books. I only recently watched the first movie in the name of informed journalism because I knew that would be reviewing “New Moon.” I had a reaction that I didn’t expect. Based on what I already knew about what my favorite gossip blogger calls “Twitards,” I suspected that I wouldn’t love it. I knew about the abstinence “metaphors.” But I didn’t expect to find a story so rich with anti-feminist ideology. A quick Google search tells me that many a literary scholar has already touched on the Bella-as-a-battered-woman interpretation, so I’ll try not to rehash. But I will say that I absolutely agree with it and don’t see it so much as an interpretation as the only way to read the damned thing. The same Google search also tells me that the movies are very similar to the books. So I feel pretty confident in my understanding of the “Twilight” universe.
I watched “Twilight” at home with a friend. But my “New Moon” experience was with an audience. Dear god, the audience! Naturally, it was mostly female. Tweens and their mothers, divided into opposing teams of Edward and Jacob. They were so pumped for the movie that they cheered for the production company logo. They cheered for first appearances of their team mascots. They whooped whenever a male character appeared without a shirt. I felt like I was attending a Barely Legal Chippendales show with my young cousin and h***y aunt. I’ve been more comfortable staring directly into a stripper’s backside. I’m not even joking.
I won’t really try to avoid spoilers because if you’re reading this, you’ve most likely either read the books and know what’s going to happen, or you’re morbidly curious and don’t really care. If you don’t want to be spoiled, consider this your warning.
“New Moon” opens with Bella, on the eve of her 18th birthday, having an anxiety dream about getting old while her immortal boyfriend, Edward, stays young. A legitimate worry, to be sure, but she follows it up with a declaration that she’s already old at 18. This is something that teenagers and people in their early 20s like to do, and it drives older folks absolutely f*****g nuts. Bella is actually a pretty typical teenager in a lot of ways, none of them positive. She constantly ignores the sound advice that more experienced people give her, choosing to do the rash thing at every turn. She sneaks out. She makes ridiculous declarations like “I don’t really like music” just to sound rebellious. She treats the nice boys terribly, always opting to make time with the troublemakers instead. This is the s**t that new parents worry about when they learn they’re having girls. And, for some reason, this character is serving as a role model for teenage girls all over the world. Excuse me while I go have a panic attack.
So anyway, Bella has a really eventful birthday. The possessive Edward has a scowl-off with Jacob, one of the many friends Bella has been ignoring ever since she got a boyfriend. Later, at Bella’s oddly formal birthday party, she gets a paper cut. This abruptly ends the festivities since half the attendees immediately want to eat her. After all this, Bella still doesn’t get what she really wants for her birthday: eternal life. Instead, she settles for a really awkward kiss goodnight from a guy who acts like he has history’s worst case of Blue Balls.
The next morning, with furrowed brow, Edward dumps her like one would a stray puppy. Literally. When he’s done, he actually leaves her in the middle of the woods and she just curls up into a whimpering ball until nighttime. She doesn’t belong in his world, he tells her. She’s not good for him. Considering how many times he’s told her that both he and his entire family would love to gobble her up like a bucket of fried chicken, he makes a valid point. And with that, the Cullens disappear from the town of Forks and from Bella’s life.
Brokenhearted, Bella immediately becomes a useless lump. So useless, in fact, that she doesn’t even try to find her way home from the woods and must be rescued by a shirtless fellow named Sam. (Can anyone tell me why no one, not even Bella’s dad, bats an eyelash when a half-clothed man walks out of the woods with an unconscious teenage girl? They just thank him and get on with their day.) After that, she sits moping in a chair for two solid months. Seriously. That’s a whole montage: Bella staring out the window while seasons change. Her dad tells her that he’s worried about her and her behavior isn’t normal. And guess what? He’s right!
Bella finally decides to get out of the house and that’s when the trouble starts again. After seeing a movie with one of her long-neglected friends, she goes on an impromptu joy ride with one of the Port Angeles rapists. As she straddles the bike, phantom Edward pops up like the angel on her shoulder to tell her that she’s being reckless. Instead of heeding his warnings, she takes this as a cue to become an adrenaline junkie. She decides that being haunted by Edward’s morality ghost is better than nothing. And then she selfishly drags the doting Jacob into her plan to be a moron.
Meanwhile, Jacob has his own problems. Shirtless Sam and his gang of equally shirtless cliff divers have been courting him to join their mysterious group. After an awkward third-wheel date with Bella and that nice blonde boy, Jacob flips out. Anyone who’s seen “Teen Wolf” recognizes this as werewolf puberty. The next time Bella sees Jacob, he’s a changed, shirtless man. Fortunately for her, he’s wolfed out just in time to save her stupid a*s from evil vampires in Edward’s absence.
Bella takes this opportunity to become a complete and total hypocrite. “It’s wrong,” she lectures him about being a werewolf. “It’s not a lifestyle choice,” he retorts. “I was born this way.” Leave it to a Mormon to compare being a bloodthirsty monster to homosexuality. I bet Stephanie Meyer even thinks that’s a really open-minded viewpoint. Anyway, Jacob tells her they can’t be friends anymore because he could flip out at any time. By way of example, he points to Sam’s scarred girlfriend. At this point, I’m surprised Bella isn’t totally smitten with him, seeing as how she has such a boner for men who want to hurt her. But nay, she still prefers her predator boyfriends scrawny and sparkly.
And then Edward’s sister returns to tell her that Edward, believing Bella dead, now has a death wish of his own. It’s here that things really start to drag as Bella has to save Edward and then get saved about 100 more times herself. The girl really is useless. Also, Dakota Fanning is there. Of course, the audience is meant to think that this is all so romantic and sweet. Love against the odds. Romeo and Juliet. And the worst part is, most of the audience does think that.
As you can see, “New Moon” is not for me. It seems like it should be. I’m a fan of supernatural stories. I was once a brooding teenager who dreamed of gothic romance. But I absolutely hate what Stephanie Meyer has done. She’s reversed everything that Joss Whedon did for female empowerment. She’s taken all the sex out of the sexy vampire. She’s boiled the “inner demons” metaphor down to nothing, and dressed it with a slightly condescending and bigoted sauce. If you liked the books and the first movie, you will probably love “New Moon.” It’s going to make a ton of money and Stephanie Meyer is going to continue to be lauded and rewarded. I know that there will always be bubblegum pop for tweens but this is so much worse than the Backstreet Boys. This is, to borrow a phrase from the source material, a lion in lambskin. It’s intellectually and socially detrimental to both literature and cinema, simultaneously. The fact that so many girls will see this movie and drink up the messages like poisoned Kool-Aid depresses the hell out of me. But there’s nothing I can do about it. You’ve already picked your team.