A confession: I can't wait to watch the new DVD of "Twilight"-a movie I've already seen. Go ahead, mock me. I'd long resisted Stephenie Meyer's series myself. A parable about abstinence, starring a hunky vampire (Edward) and the sweet object of his affection (Bella)? No, thanks. But it at some point it came to seem churlish to denigrate what I didn't know, and so I went to see the film.
It captivated me. I had read that it would be a celebration of chastity-proof that what a girl wants is a boy who won't bite. But that was not the movie I saw. Sure, Edward's vampy gaze seemed more silly than sultry, and when he and Bella danced to Debussy, I laughed. But the tension animating the movie more than made up for some horrific makeup and clunky dialogue. "Twilight" is about sex and denial-but it is anything but chaste. If I were the mother of a 13-year-old, this movie would terrify me. More than restraint-or wanting what you can't have-the movie celebrates Bella's determination for a moment of immortality, even though it will leave her a monster. Sex is part of that, and so is death, but it's irreducible.
The night after I saw "Twilight," I went to "Tristan und Isolde" at New York's Metropolitan Opera. It was a magnificent production, but near the end of the first act-when Isolde's attendant swaps the heroine's intended poison for a love potion-my mind wan dered to "Twilight." Perhaps it was the music's resonant tension, or the suggestion of ill-fated love. Whatever the cause-when the lights rose for intermission, I turned to my husband and told him I'd see him later. Embarrassed, I hurried to the bookstore across the street to see if the book could help explain why "Twilight" so seized me. I picked up the first installment, gathered my blue silk skirt and sat on the floor. With a sense of anticipation I could hardly believe, I began to read.
I was disappointed. The prose was ungainly-but I had expected that.I wasn't ready, though, for such a passive heroine, or a hero alternately stony and goopy. What fueled their attraction, Meyer stressed, was as simple as the scent of her blood, his skin-a pheromonal love potion. I thought of the opera. Tristan and Isolde drink what they think is poison, but instead fall in love. Reading "Twilight," I sensed that Bella did not understand that her love was actually poisonous. She seemed too distracted by those golden eyes.
In the movie, she knows. Kristen Stewart's Bella is cool and determined. What gives the movie its power is that there's no question that Bella will win, that she will overwhelm Edward's resistance-but not yet. "What makes the engine go?" the poet Stanley Kunitz wrote. "Desire, desire, desire."