Total honesty: My roommate gave me the idea for this post.
You see, we saw two movies together this weekend: My Week With Marilyn and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part One, Holy Crap This Series Will Never End. I sat down to write about them – and, no lie, the first words I typed were “Twilight: Oh dear God, you guys” – and my roommate said, “Are you writing about Twilight? And comparing Bella and Marilyn Monroe?” And I laughed and then realized…actually, that’s an amazing point.
(Reviews-ish and spoilers for both films below; fair warning.)
My Week With Marilyn was an interesting (not exhilarating) film worth seeing for Michelle Williams’ stunning performance. Sure, she pulled off the remarkable trick of inhabiting the Marilyn Monroe persona so completely that you just can’t see the seams. But more than that, she captured a fascinating, bewildering complexity: her desperation to be loved beyond her celebrity, yet her calculated use of the Marilyn caricature to charm men into falling for her; the overwhelming insecurity that could cripple her vast talent. It’s a tour-de-force portrayal of a deeply complicated woman, and the movie – like the “movie-within-the-movie,” The Prince and the Showgirl – is a hit-or-miss film that comes alive when Michelle/Marilyn is onscreen.
Speaking of paralyzing insecurity, let’s talk about Bella Swan, the central figure of The Twilight Saga (and boy, has the word “saga” ever been more aptly used). Like Marilyn, Bella also has men – well, boys/vampires/werewolves – falling at her feet, and also like Marilyn, this attention does little to soothe her anxiety and self-doubt; in Breaking Dawn, she is so delighted to be marrying the gorgeous vampire of her dreams that she stumbles down the aisle looking like she wants to vomit all over her wedding guests. (If Robert Pattinson was desperate to marry you, wouldn’t you hire a skywriter and televise your wedding on a live satellite feed? Just asking.) Wedding jitters are understandable, but this scene was kind of the culmination of her character’s “I’m a mess and I don’t know why this guy loves me but apparently he does, so whatever, I’ll just follow him into eternity” character arc; and since “angsty and nervous” seem to be Kristen Stewart’s primary palette, her Bella is exactly as scowly and miserable as on the page. (In one scene, Bella scolds her new husband Edward for not being able to recognize how happy she was, which was an easy mistake since she never cracked a smile.)
Does it seem like I hate Bella? Because I deeply do, and it’s not (simply) Kristen Stewart’s fault; I have ever since I first read the books. She – in the exact same way as Marilyn – projects such vulnerability that she all but demands to be rescued, then makes her self-worth completely dependent upon the guy in nearest proximity. And neither handles the thought of abandonment well; Marilyn turns to pills and booze (predictably), and Bella (in New Moon, an earlier installment of the series) devolves into a catatonic state so infuriating that you want to slap her back into reality: You don’t exist solely to be a girlfriend. For God’s sake, do something with your life.
The difference between them is that these flaws (and the sad knowledge of how her story ends) present Marilyn Monroe as an achingly tragic figure. But Bella? She’s supposed to be the hero of our epic saga, its strong moral backbone, and as a woman, I just can’t stand it. We deserve to be loved, but we shouldn’t need to be saved.
Also worth noting: Breaking Dawn is a pretty terrible movie with a borderline-traumatic birth scene and an awesome message (don’t have sex, kids, but if you really want to, make sure you rush into a marriage you’re uncomfortable with first, and then be prepared to get ripped apart in childbirth, because that’s what happens). Two important points, though: I can report that Taylor Lautner is shirtless within the first fifteen seconds of the film, and if I’m not mistaken, I believe that’s a new record for the franchise; and also, I hope that you are lucky enough to see the film, as I did, with a woman who forgot that she wasn’t in her own living room and served as a Waldorf & Statler-type presence throughout the movie. When Bella mentioned that if her vampire spawn was a girl she wanted to name it some combination of its grandmothers’ names, Renee and Esme, the woman piped up (in all seriousness), “She’s going to name it Résumé?!”
And that, dear b-rollers, was the best part of the movie.