Prove your humanity

Did I pitch this article so that I had an excuse to rewatch Twilight and proclaim my undying love for it? Yes, absolutely. But it’s also high time we give this series the respect it deserves, goddamnit. So that’s why I’ll be doing a rewatch of the entire series. 11 year old Isabelle would be so proud.

Catherin Hardwicke had a mammoth task when she was given the chance to direct Twilight. The book series already had a legion of fans, and buzz about a potential movie adaptation had invited many more to pick up the books. Stephanie Meyer had even created her ideal fancast, so every aspect of the film was scrutinised. But even with intense examination from fans and casual viewers alike, the film was a success: it grossed USD $393 million worldwide back in 2008, and was the most purchased DVD in 2009. The next books in the series were immediately picked up as films by production company Summit Entertainment, and a new phenomenon was born.

But then, the internet happened. Waves of trolling and memes directed at Twilight fans made enjoying the series an almost shameful exercise. Overnight, almost every crappy relationship was “still a better love story than Twilight”, the actor’s performances were picked apart (justice for Kristen Stewart) and fans were teased for enjoying the “cringe” content. But Twilight filled a gap in the mainstream media space that many didn’t even know was there: a space for the relatable female heroine.

That’s not to say that there were never female heroes (particularly those aged 18-24) in mainstream media before Twilight. We of course had horror movie Final Girls, “strong female protagonists” (almost entirely written by men and fuelled by internalised misogyny), manic pixie dream girls, and the male protagonists’ love interests. But then there was Bella. For teen girls and young women, Isabella Swan was the protagonist they could project themselves onto—she wasn’t super popular, nor was she socially inept. She cared about school, she enjoyed reading and even though her parents loved her, Bella’s home life was far from perfect.

What happened next was an unprecedented stream of films, shows and books all catering to this newly discovered audience. The fantasy and sci-fi space were reshaping to accommodate young women. TV shows like The Vampire Diaries and True Blood hit our screens, with protagonists who, like Bella, are ordinary and desexualised young women that grow and find independence through their intense, supernatural lovers.

The visual choices in Twilight made by Catherine Hardwicke were mocked at the time for being too dramatic. The strange blue tint that shrouds the entire first film was quickly dropped in the sequels to a tint more fitting for a large-budget blockbuster. But the much-mocked blue tint (now loved by Twilight fans) ultimately set the tone for the entire series—this wasn’t a regular teen romance, made for a wide audience on a huge budget. The blue tint reminds us that these characters, however much we love them, are abnormal. Combined with the makeup the Cullens (and the vampires in the nomadic trio) wear, the effect is disarming. The actors are still attractive of course, but their beauty is now otherworldly and somewhat horrifying. They’re entirely removed from their humanity, whilst still looking and acting completely human.

Twilight’s dialogue was also mocked heavily. Stewart’s delivery of Bella’s lines was criticised for being emotionless and cold, Pattinson’s performance was considered hammy and forced. The dialogue of Twilight is certainly not as smooth as the sequels, but it perfectly captures the awkwardness of high school romance (and what 117-year-old vampire isn’t going to be super intense?). Bella stumbles over her words, isn’t confident or even comfortable speaking with the Cullens, or the humans in her life, for that matter. She speaks and acts like a typical sixteen-year-old, wanting to be suave and relaxed and failing most of the time. The audience can see how out of place she is, how so many of her jokes fall flat and how she struggles to fit in with Jessica and Angela. At the start of the film, the only person she can really speak to comfortably is Jacob, who goes to a different school and lives amongst a different community. It’s a joy to see Bella begin to speak her mind more confidently as she gets stronger, and by the end of the film she makes her intentions clear to Edward: she will be a vampire one day, and they will spend eternity together.

Twilight is an indie film that just happened to get a wide release. The meme culture surrounding Twilight, from the trolling to the “Twilight Renaissance” of 2020, cements its place in the Western cultural zeitgeist: this movie wasn’t just a fluke or a laughable attempt at an adaptation playing to the insecurities of young women. Twilight began an entertainment revolution, listening to the entertainment wants of young women and teenagers and giving the so-called “chick flick” the hype it deserves.

The release and reception of Twilight uncovered a truth that many had known for some time: young women shape popular culture. And still in 2020, a full 12 years after its release, Twilight is hailed as a paragon of teen cinema and the beginning of a tidal wave of young adult media. Twilight is something special, something we all can enjoy once we shake the fear of enjoying something made for young women.