Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twilight Vampires and The Return of Courtly Love

TwilightI saw the teen vampire movie Twilight last night with my daughter, 27. We grinned through some parts, groaned through others. Vampire aficionados of the old-school type and grown women who know a little about relationships, we felt the characters were unrealistic and that had nothing to do with some of them being vampires.

That's not to say that Twilight's vision of the vampire doesn't have teeth, but that it twists the very nature of vampires we have known and loved. Defanging vampires for romance is the staple of some of the newer vampire movies, books, and TV series that make vampires our chivalrous lovers.

In Twilight, Vampire hero Edward (Robert Pattinson) understands that he is the monster and what his real nature is, the one he must fight. He tells Bella, the object of his affection, that he is the perfect predator: he smells good, looks good, sounds good, and yet needs none of those traits to overpower prey because he has superhuman strength and speed.

As much as I am a fan of Joss Whedon's Angel, who also fights his nature because he has a soul, I resist the idea that Edward fights his nature based simply on the teachings of the vampire who made him, Carlisle Cullen.

I can believe a soul brings conscience and creates angst and that angst is heightened by moralistic teaching, but what if you have no soul, which vampires supposedly do not have because they are the undead? I have not read the Twilight books. Perhaps I should. Maybe the author, Stephenie Meyer, develops within the books that the soul is trapped in the undead body and so vampires retain human conscience and do not become cunning creatures who must act on blood lust. If not, then, well ... Whatever, Meyer is making lots of money so why should she care whether her premise makes sense to me?

Meyer is not alone in creating the sensitive vampire. Louis in Ann Rice's Interview with The Vampire hated his nature without soul provocation as well. However, the vampire Lestat was more interesting. And True Blood's Bill, who cherishes Sookie seems to follow a taste a little and protect a lot motto; however, True Blood has tossed aside or reshaped quite a few vampire legend traditions. Also, Lifetime Television produced Blood Ties with its don't-bite-the-heroine hero vampire, Mike. (Now I'm wishing I didn't remove my old essay on vampire characters and types from the Net.)

I suppose it could be argued that if you live long enough you must mature and so conscience is reborn in a sense. You learn, as one of the "bad" but reasonable vampires said in Twilight, "don't play with your food," and maybe grow weary with unrestrained carnage. Yes, living without learning or evolving is both boring and sad.

Anyway, I told my daughter after the movie, "Lots of melodrama. But I can see why this movie appeals to teen girls. It's the return of the courtly love."

She, who like me was an English major, thought about my assessment a moment and then agreed. I don't want to write an English paper here tonight, and so I'll reference other articles that mention courtly love in relation to Twilight and Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward's love.
Twilight is an anomaly in our sex-mad world. It preaches the virtues of celibacy, of saving yourself for future pleasure, while at the same time elevating the subject of your devotion to almost mystical status. Messages of abstinence rarely penetrate the minds of teens, yet this one has them lining up.

In literature class, they call this neck-up amour courtly love, and it began with knights wooing fair maidens. In the Twilight of current times, it's vampire boys chasing grunge girls, and that's the genius of Meyer's otherwise pedestrian book, which director Catherine Hardwicke has ably served in her screen adaptation. (The Star)
Hardwicke indeed serves the courtly love theme well in Twilight because I, who knew little of Meyer's books, saw immediately in the movie the knight and the maiden, in love but forbidden to consummate due to some moral restriction. In old courtly love tales their love may have been forbidden because the maiden was the king's wife and so the pair had to bridle lust and rise to a higher, spiritual love.

Naturally this idea of an unconditional love in which the male sticks by you even if you never bed him appeals to young girls because, no matter how modern their parents may be, most moms and dads still would prefer their daughters abstain from sex until they're out of school, and many still advise "Say 'no' until you're married."

Plus, girls experience pressure to have sex and some want to resist because they're not emotionally ready and know it. A boy who says "no" makes resisting easier.

Yet, in Edward Twilight also contains the romance novel hero who is so smitten he must beat himself up to not ravage the heroine. In romance novels geared toward older women, at some point the hero falls and practically rapes the heroine, but it's never called attempted rape. It's called heavy seduction.

Edward and Bella petted a little in the movie, and he had self-control and threw himself off Bella, surprised that he'd had the will to do so. If Edward went as far as the human heroes in traditional romance novels, then he'd have to bite Bella. What is not orgasm but a total loss of control?

The scene at the movie's climax, however, with its wrist sucking bite executed in order "to save Bella's life" was definitely sex. Writhing, moaning, even the prick.

Other links: When we saw Twilight last night, my daughter and I went to a special showing for the over-21 crowd. We had to show ID. No teens allowed, no girls swooning over Pattinson or Taylor Lautner who plays Jacob Black, a werewolf.

1 comment:

Blue State Cowgirl said...

A very scholarly discussion. I was much more elemental: Vampires are all about sex and a celibate vampire is just, well, a bit bloodless: