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Breaking Bella—When Love Equals Violence

| November 18, 2011

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Still from "Breaking Dawn Part One"

The author—many of whose friends, along with their younger sisters, have loved the Twilight characters since the day they picked up the first novel in the series—turns a spotlight on the fate of the heroine of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part One," which opens this week.

Bella Swan has a nightmare about her upcoming wedding. She and her future husband, vampire Edward Cullen, stand under an arch of white flowers, gazing at each other while family and friends smile approvingly. But as the camera pans out, we see that Bella’s wedding gown is stained with blood, and she and Edward are standing on a pile of bloody corpses (the previously smiling and approving wedding guests). Bella almost gets it right. But there’s only one bloody corpse at the end of the movie, and it’s hers.

Breaking Dawn is a horribly violent movie. I’m not talking about the fight scenes; vampires punching CGI-ed werewolves in the snout isn’t exactly frightening—in fact, the critic sitting next to me chuckled every time the werewolves and vampires came within ten feet of each other. The only real violence in the movie was directed at and experienced by Bella, to a nauseating degree.

Where to start? There’s the poor girl’s honeymoon night, a night she’s longed for since around page 10 of the first novel, during which Edward smashes apart the bed, shreds pillows, and leaves Bella bruised. The movie takes a lighter hand than series author Stephenie Meyer did; in the novel Bella describes her body as “decorated with patches of blue and purple,” and then excuses it with “my skin marked up easily.” Her first thought is how she’s going to hide the bruises on her arms. Oh my god. The movie largely glosses over this; we see only two of Bella’s bruises, one on her wrist and one on her back, and they disappear after a couple hours (the film’s director must have realized that watching Bella beg for sex while battered may have been too much for the Twi-hardest Twi-hard.)

There’s also the violence that Bella is forced to commit against her own body. The fetus (and unlike Edward’s sister Rosalie, so desperate for a child of her own that she connives with Bella against Edward’s pressure to abort, I will call it a fetus) is too powerful for Bella’s body and starves her; as her stomach grows, the rest of her shrinks, the exact opposite of a healthy pregnancy. In one particularly horrifying scene, we see Bella’s naked back as she stands in front of a mirror, her skin wan and clammy, her shoulder blades jutting out grotesquely, slowly starving to death. The solution to this comes unwittingly from Edward's rival Jacob, who thinks bitterly that the little vamp is probably just jonesing for some blood. Bingo! Blood cocktail! Edward puts a little O negative in a Styrofoam cup with a straw, like he’s giving Bella a milkshake from a gas station. Drink up!

But the apex of cringe-worthy gore comes when Bella goes into labor. Oh help me Rhonda, what a scene. What’s the worst part? That we hear bones crunching as the fetus fights its way out of Bella’s body? That because resident doctor Carlisle is out hunting, four certified non-doctors perform a Caesarian section? That the fetus is crushing Bella from the inside so rapidly that the makeshift team of surgeons doesn’t even have time to administer any anesthetic, and cuts Bella open as she screams in agony?

No, the most breathtakingly awful moment is when Bella begins to slip away from life, and Edward, after jamming a cartoonishly large needle full of vampire venom in her chest, panics and begins biting her everywhere—neck, arms, legs, everywhere, to change her to a vampire before she dies. I almost jumped out of my seat and screamed, “KNOCK IT OFF! Hasn’t she been through enough already?”

Some people might say, so what? Life is violent. Childbirth, at the very least, is violent. And they’re right. Nobody would stand in line for hours in the pouring rain to see a movie in which every character floated around on an ambrosia-scented cloud and ate bon-bons until the credits rolled. But my point isn’t that this movie is violent; it’s that while Edward stares out the window and mopes and Jacob storms around in various stages of undress, Bella bears the brunt of the movie’s violence at the hands of the people she loves. This is the central message of the movie: love comes hand-in-hand with physical violence. We’re supposed to revel in Bella’s suffering; the bigger her bruises, the louder her bones crack, the better wife she is, the better mother, the better woman. Twilight’s audience skews young—there were nine-year-old girls in the theater with me—so what are they supposed to take away from this?

Those too young to have experienced a sexual relationship and certainly too young to have experienced a pregnancy only see the normalization of violence against a woman’s body. And when the movie ended, they cheered for it.

[Image 2: Pregnant Bella (Kristen Stewart) has a lot to worry about.]

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