Saturday, 24 January 2009

The Twilight Saga, Kristen Stewart and Why I Love Both

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I started because of her. I finished because it is probably my favourite series of fiction books ever.

I understand that in no way do I fit the target demographic for the novels of The Twilight Saga. I’m male, I’m in my mid twenties and I normally hate literary works of fiction. However, I admittedly joined the Twilight bandwagon late on the back of the movie version of the first novel; just as it was designed to do. More specifically the presence of one drew me in hook, line and sinker.

The performance of Kristen Stewart is what made the movie for me, and turned standard teen romantic (with slightly gothic undertone) fare into something substantial. It was exceedingly lucky for me that she played the story’s lead protagonist Bella, who moves to the small town of Forks in Washington from Phoenix to live with her father. She settles into town and falls in love with the strange, so called ‘beautiful’ outsider named Edward who ‘gasp’ just happens to be a vampire. I say it was lucky for me because Bella just happens to be in almost every scene of the movie. Not only is Bella one of the most fleshed out characters of the modern era but also the performance of Stewart is utterly compelling, showing off her intense beauty and her immense acting talent in equal measure. It was almost enough to make me forget that the movie is entirely conventional in every single way.

However, the character and the performance alone were enough to inspire me to read the book upon which the movie is based, and boy I’m glad I did. Where the movie focuses its attention on the story’s supernatural and action filled set pieces, the book focuses on the much more compelling elements of the narrative: the development of Bella’s character and her romance with Edward. This is where the heart of the story essentially lies, something which the movie’s screenwriter seemed to forget, (Except in passing in order to emphasise Robert Pattinson’s utterly conventional, yet equally monotonous presence for the pleasure of squealing heterosexual teen girls).

The book convincingly explains why Bella is drawn to Edward in the first place, not merely for his aloofness, as the movie would have you believe, but for the intellectual and emotional challenges he provides. More importantly the book keenly demonstrates that the relationship between Bella and Edward is entirely reciprocal and not the product of some weird stalker type fantasy.

The second book New Moon leaves its predecessor in its wake as the character of Jacob is given an essential part in the overarching storyline. Introduced in the first book as a friend of Bella, the consequences of that friendship in the context of her relationship with Edward are fully explored and are taken to some enthralling places. Also New Moon provides the opportunity for the traits of some of the key supporting characters to be uncovered. This makes the central romance between Bella and Edward even more gripping.

However, its with the third book Eclipse that the series reaches its peak. The storylines that I loved so much in the first two novels are given more attention and the action set pieces seem like an afterthought, much to the novel’s benefit. The emotional journey of Bella throughout the novel is thoroughly realistic even if the events are not. As the reader I felt anguished as Bella is forced to make the toughest decision in the saga. Eclipse is a masterpiece not because of its conventions, but because it made me feel like I was a part of Bella and her journey.

Inevitably and disappointingly the saga had to come to its conclusion. The fourth novel Breaking Dawn does a fine job of this, but I longed for more. At this point four novels of Bella does not seem enough for me, particularly as the novel reached a perfunctory and rushed conclusion. However, it did what all good finales are meant to do by demonstrating the journey that each of the characters took by highlighting how the events in the saga changed them for the better. I guess I’m just bitter because I wanted to end up with Bella.

As for Kristen Stewart she could recite the alphabet against a wall and I’d be entirely satisfied. In fact, I survived the otherwise lamentable Adam Brody and Meg Ryan movie In the Land of Women just to witness her completely illuminating performance in a small supporting role. Similarly I endured the otherwise completely boring narcolepsy cure all known as Into the Wild, just to see her light up the screen a further time. Her performance, and the tank top denim short shorts outfit she wore for the majority of her time on screen were significant reward for having to fast forward through 75% of that pathetic excuse for cinema. Now that we know each other Kristen and I will see absolutely everything you are in please choose better roles. For me, pretty please.

At least you’re starring in New Moon and Eclipse.

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