There are so many reasons why teenage girls hate their bodies that it's basically impossible to list them all. But Twilight: Breaking Dawn tries. The flick is basically a surreal, humiliating music video about teenage body panic. Every fleeting moment of self-hatred you've ever had about yourself is chronicled in excruciating detail here — and I think that's why so many of us love to watch. It's also why we hate ourselves afterward.
I watched the three previous Twilight movies with self-mocking glee because they so perfectly captured many women's basest instincts — including my own. Bella, like a vampire and werewolf combined into one trainwrecky mess, is a voracious animal who is so emotionally needy that she constantly obsesses over when she'll be able to suck boyfriend Edward's blood. People always make a big deal about how Bella is a just a human being fought over by two monsters. But to me she's always been as monstrous as Jacob and Edward. She has the superpower of draining away everybody else's emotional stability and sucking them into her endless melodrama.
Most young people — not just women — go through a phase where they first discover the power of emotional blackmail and the endless depths of their romantic neediness. Bella acts out the most extreme version of that discovery. And like I said, it's satisfying to watch in a "holy crap she's just going for it" kind of way.
But it took sometime arthouse director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Gods and Monsters) to take this series from candy-guzzling PMS freakout into something dark and (literally) rotten. Sure, you can still take a kind of vicarious joy in Bella's princessy wedding — which is genuinely pretty — and writer Melissa Rosenberg has managed to slip in a few good, snarky lines for Bella's friends. But about halfway through the movie, my ironic laughter stuck in my throat and I just started to feel nauseated. It wasn't just seeing Bella's anorexic pregnant body (more on that in a minute). It was realizing that Bella was growing into the most horrifying monster of all: a girl-woman with no drive to do anything but feed her bottomless hunger for adoration, luxury, and attention. She's a supernatural version of Octomom.
Alright, let me back up and give you some plot background before we fast-forward into how Bella's womb ate the world.
Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1 is the first in a two-part cycle of movies that will tell the story of Stephenie Meyer's fourth Twilight novel. The movie begins with Bella's storybook wedding to Edward — complete with ultra-expensive wedding gown and an entire artificial forest of flowers created by her new rich vampire family. Jacob is so sad about all this that he goes wolf for weeks on end, which is probably a good thing because Taylor Lautner's acting abilities have degenerated into "I am able to memorize my lines" and that's about it. Meanwhile, everybody else is TOTALLY HAPPY about the wedding, even though they shed tears.
Then Edward whisks Bella off to a private island off the coast of Rio, where they have a house entirely stocked with a Pottery Barn catalogue and two locals whose job is to come in and clean up every day after Edward breaks the furniture and shreds the pillows with his vampire-powered lovemaking. There is a lot of creepy attention paid to the fact that Edward is going to have sex with Bella while she's still human. WHY DOES BELLA TELL EVERYBODY ABOUT HER SEX PLANS? See my earlier point about being an emotional trainwreck, and add "toxic oversharing" to her list of monstery powers. Jacob gets so upset that he vows to lead the wolves against the Cullens because Edward is officially endangering Bella's life with his vampire penis. (Though the only evidence we have for this is that he breaks some furniture while having sex with her, and leaves a few light bruises on her arms.)
After two nights of danger nookie, Bella gets pregnant. She lies to everybody about it except Edward and the Cullens, and the baby immediately starts sucking away her life. Now she's dying of baby-itis, and Edward can't change her because it would kill the baby (I'm not sure why they decide this). Cue scene after scene of Bella lapping up everybody's attention while lying in soft blankets in the Cullens' well-appointed living room. She's got zombie makeup on and looks horrifyingly skinny because the baby is eating her from inside. But yay! Her suicidal behavior forces everybody to think of nothing but making her comfortable. Also, she has to drink blood out of styrofoam cups for the baby. Cups that everybody else brings to her on the couch while they starve because the wolves won't let them out to hunt. Yay!
Eventually the situation gets so dire with the wolves that Jacob has a showdown with the pack — a long, bizarre scene where a bunch of them talk to each other in growl language. I realized about halfway through that I was watching an entire dramatic moment unfold between dogs. It was improbably bizarre and gave me a flash of the campy fun from the first three movies. Anyway, we spend ages watching Bella look grosser and grosser, and the wolves getting growlier. And then . . . the baby starts to come.
Renesme, the baby, first breaks Bella's back. So now Bella's basically a skeletal, zombified mess whose body is becoming mulch. The camera offers us long, loving scenes of her anorexic legs and arms akimbo around her swollen belly. Bella has become a literalization of every horrible thing a teenage girl has ever done or imagined doing to herself out of body-hatred. Starved! Pregnant! Cut! Broken! Dying! Fer chrissake, people. This is no longer an extreme romantic fantasy. It's like something out of Black Swan.
Unfortunately, the elder Cullens aren't around, so Edward, Jacob, and a couple of the younger vamps have to do the delivery themselves. It's going to be a race-against-time thing where they have to yank Renesme out and then immediately get vamp venom into Bella's veins so that she won't die. While the baby eats its way out of Bella's womb, Edward chomps down on it from the outside. That's right — he chews his way into her womb to get Renesme out. And then he takes a giant syringe full of what looks like sparkly sperm and jams it into Bella's chest to turn her into a vampire.
(I know I've already overloaded you with spoilers, and I'm sorry — I really needed to tell you all this to make my point. I promise I won't give away what happens to the baby and the wolves. That's a whole other issue, and we'll talk about it when Breaking Dawn, Part 2 comes out next year.)
So now I can explain why this movie went from fun cheesefest to nighmarish humiliation. You have to balance that image of the anorexic, half-devoured body of Bella with the image of the Cullens' Pottery Barn fantasy house in Brazil. This isn't just a story about getting love — it's about getting rich, marrying up. Bella goes from her dad's government-pay shack to the Cullens' glass palace (how the hell do they heat that thing?) and private islands. The ugliest truth about the Twilight fantasy is that it's about a woman who uses emotional blackmail to get wealth as well as love. Edward will always be able to take care of Bella mostly because he's rich, not because he can leap mountain streams in a single bound.
In the first three movies, when Bella is still in high school, it's easy to think of her as a young woman with romantic dreams and melodramatic impulses. But once she's married and having a baby, she's nothing but an emotional vampire who thrives on getting attention and care for hurting herself. This movie makes you stare that destructive impulse right in the face — or rather, right in the cooze. We finally see the ugliness at the heart of a conservative romance narrative like the Twilight series. It's not that women lose their power. It's that they use all their power to manipulate other people into taking care of them. It's that they are willing to eat themselves in order to eat the world.