The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Movie review by Greg Carlson

America’s favorite skinny white girl/vampire/werewolf love triangle continues in “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” the third big screen installment of Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster publishing success. Director David Slade, who follows Catherine Hardwicke and Chris Weitz in the director’s chair, improves on the efforts of his predecessors, taking advantage of a healthy budget and the knowledge that the franchise has a rabid, ready-made following. As the series inches closer to a sexual consummation that appears to explode the underlying endorsement of abstinence, “The Twilight Saga” bears a striking resemblance to the “Harry Potter” series in its preoccupation with the liminal state of suspension between adolescence and adulthood.

Rekindling the romance of spooky sweethearts Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) after their melodramatic separation in second chapter “New Moon,” “Eclipse” devotes a significant amount of time to a plot in which vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, replacing Rachelle Lefevre) enlists dupe Riley (Xavier Samuel) to raise an army of hungry “newborns” hell bent on finding Bella. To protect Bella, the Cullen clan forms a shaky truce with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) and his family wolf pack. Additionally, the dastardly Volturi, led by youthful-looking Jane (Dakota Fanning) descend on Forks, Washington with a plan of their own.

Young girls have expressed loyalty and preference by joining “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” (too bad there’s not a boyfriend-free third option called “Team Bella”) but whether one favors the bloodsucker or the lycanthrope, Lautner’s Jacob surely gets to deliver the movie’s best comebacks and insults. “Eclipse” is the most self-referencing of the three “Twilight” movies to date, and the film’s refreshing sense of humor, often applied in the service of mocking/acknowledging frequently bare-chested Jacob’s shirtless state, allows viewers to simultaneously embrace and ridicule the saga’s most recognizable appurtenances.

Padded with Bella’s voiceover narration and the threat of almost constant exposition, “Eclipse” does cleverly link one flashback – featuring a cameo by Bauhaus leader and Goth icon Peter Murphy – to a tactic Bella employs to distract Victoria from destroying Edward. That the strategy involves self-cutting will reignite discussion on gender messages in “Twilight.” Until Bella becomes a vampire herself, a transformation that requires the surrender of her life and the symbolic surrender of her virginity, the central character must remain durably passive (note how often she must literally be carried around in the arms of Edward or Jacob).

The climactic moment of the love triangle unfolds in a freezing tent, when Edward consents to save Bella’s life using the only reasonable method at hand: the warm-blooded body heat of half-naked Jacob, who happily crawls into the shivering heroine’s sleeping bag to warm her while ice-cold Edward broods. A marvelous spin on the “intimate healing” trope that has been a staple of soap operas for decades, and has made variant appearances in “The Saint,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and “Tristan & Isolde,” the scene works perfectly as an illustration of the homoerotic connection between Edward and Jacob (they have an intimate heart-to-heart while Bella sleeps through the noise of her chattering teeth) and as the distillation of the forbidden and impossible ménage a trois, soon to be banished by Bella’s “choice.”

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 7/5/10.

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