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bechdel taser: breaking dawn

The Bechdel Test, named for graphic artist Alison Bechdel, asks three simple questions of a movie:

Are there at least two female characters?
Do they have at least one conversation?

About something other than a man?

They hardly ensure positive representation of women, but they’re a start—and a talking point. In Bechdel Taser, I’ll ask culture to give me the respect I give it. Sometimes, that’s not much, but there’s fun to be found in fail.

I loved the first couple of Twilight films. There was more wood in the acting than in some Tasmanian forests, while the CGI and unearned melodrama made me laugh hard enough to negate the calories in my tub of popcorn and choc-top. In return, I had enough popcorn thrown at me to fill another tub.

But along the way, these films lost a lot of their camp charm. The first thirty seconds of Breaking Dawn are promising. Recognising the abridged attention spans of today’s youth, Jacob tears off his shirt less than twenty seconds into the film. Alas, this is not a sign of newfound self-awareness. An edit of only the scenes with werewolves would be a short and fantastic drinking game. Drink for anything PETA would find offensive; drink when Taylor Lautner has been told to walk naturally, have a sincere emotion or consider the serious ramifications of psychically bonding yourself to your latest crush. You won’t be drinking for that last one. Completely sober, there is a scene which feels like watching The Animals of Farthing Wood during a bad trip.

Let’s be honest. The reason you’re debating shelling out $10-$18 for a ticket to this movie is the promise of Cedric Diggory gnawing a human(?) out of his corpse bride. Unfortunately, the producers do not value your interest in train-wrecks nearly so much. The birthing scene tarries between a 1990s anti-smoking advertisement, and an anti-feminist Alien.

That’s where the lullz end. B-movie fun has been replaced by Precious-style solemnity. Domestic abuse allegory is thrown aside for just long enough to let drug abuse parallels begin. The score channels Phantom of the Opera via Home and Away.

So, let’s Bechdel test it.

Two female characters – yes

They converse – yes

About something other than a guy – yes

They talk about babies. I did mention the test was only the first step.

If it weren’t for Stephanie Meyer’s quite blatant religious leanings, you could argue that Breaking Dawn offers an interesting take on the pro-choice/pro-life argument. Even if it is done with the subtlety of Alan Jones moderating a political debate.

I really wanted to find something to reclaim in Breaking Dawn, but from micro- to macro-, it offers a full scale of fail. It ticks off the standard Hollywood gender conformity boxes pretty quickly. Bella must wear heels to her wedding; both men and women give speeches at the reception but the dudes get to say things that are clever or amusing, while the women gush and weep.

They’re generic faux pas. On the whole they may damage society and reinforce nasty norms, but on a movie-to-movie basis, they’re pretty forgettable.

What separates Breaking Dawn from something like Jack and Jill or New Years Eve is that it’s not designed to be forgotten: it’s part of a phenomenon with ardent devotees, merchandise, and internet forums.

I considered suggesting that Bella’s defiance in marrying Edward against the wishes of the masculine, patriarchal werewolves, was empowering. But no. There is no autonomy in anything Bella does, and I think I cracked Kristen Stewart’s acting method . It isn’t ‘wooden’ — it’s ‘hostage’.  Until the honeymoon, she is crying out for help with her eyes. Of course she can’t say a word, her fiancé is supernaturally powerful and she is so isolated in the town that even ‘woman on laptop in cafe during first film’ is invited to the wedding. The woman’s Stephanie Meyer, but that’s beside the point. Edward’s idea of romance is to withhold the location of their honeymoon … a deserted island accessible only by boat.

Bella considers herself a coward for terror in the face of his throbbing man-stick, but the release of penetrative, married, hetero-sex sends her into deep contentment. Or, as I would term it, Stockholm Syndrome. Terrifyingly, the furniture is crushed around the couple as they copulate, so the film’s most strident claim to feminism is the assertion that women are stronger than bed-posts. And even that is surprising to Edward.

The discussion about whether Bella should spawn her demon offspring is null; the target audience is associating with the alienated, mentally ill Bella, who is treated like a cross between Porrphyria and Christiane F. And Bella believes nothing is more important than the life of that parasite.

The willingness to sacrifice your life for a child is part and parcel of becoming a woman, as far as Breaking Dawn is concerned. And becoming a woman is equated with becoming a vampire. Becoming a vampire, incidentally, is the greatest waterproof mascara ever. So the movie comes full circle, with beauty and motherhood the happy end-goals for females. Even if they kill you.

The only hope for this series is that Bella’s emaciated, sunken, pregnant form will snap its fans into the realisation of how toxic their interest really is.

2 thoughts on “bechdel taser: breaking dawn

  1. Pingback: Welcome to Monday ~ 5th December 2011 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

  2. Pingback: On the (Rest of the) Net: Catch-Up Edition. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

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