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The second film in the” Twilight” saga, “New Moon,” pursues the question of what would happen to Bella if Edward left her.
 

The answer: She’ll have some version of a nervous breakdown because her dependence on him is so strong she literally cannot live in a functional way without his presence. She’ll have rip-roaring nightmares, drop all her friends and start hallucinating Edward’s presence whenever she senses danger. And those hallucinations, strangely enough, cause her to seek out danger whenever she can rather than, say, seek help for her burgeoning psychological problems.

 

Of course, the problematic gender/power imbalances in “Twilight” have been much discussed, as have the religious and sexual implications of the story – the height of this conversation was surely reached with the recent declaration by the Vatican’s culture council leader, Monsignor Franco Perazzolo, that the “film is nothing more than a moral vacuum with a deviant message.”

 

 

Yet as I have blogged elsewhere, there are some more interesting themes developing around gender, religion and sexuality in the “Twilight” books and movies than meets the eye (see here and here).

 

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years and don’t know about the “Twilight” series: It’s a four-book saga by Mormon author Stephenie Meyer about a clumsy teenage girl, Bella, and a 109-year-old teenage vampire, Edward, who have somewhat inexplicably fallen in love. He can’t resist her smell, which means he simultaneously wants to kiss her and eat her. It’s a sex-and-violence combo that gets progressively creepier through the course of the novels and films.

 

And she can’t resist his broody, pent-up angst. Meyer’s vampires have their own particular spin. Edward’s family members are vegetarian, meaning they eat only animal blood in an effort to blend into civilized culture. Not only can they step out into the sun without shriveling up, but also they actually sparkle like diamonds once there. This necessitates their living in Forks, Wash., where the constant cloud cover hides their secret identities.

 

The novels are erotically charged while totally chaste, filling parents all over with the fearful realization that the abstinence their teenage kids might practice is a much sexier option than they ever imagined.

 

While this second film was, like the first, full of moments that made us ponder Bella’s dangerous influence on young female viewers, what I found most interesting about it was how it filled out some of her psychological profile. Sure, she’s crazy obsessed with Edward such that she can’t survive without him when he flees to Italy in an effort to protect her from himself. But at the same time, we get a sense that her psychological instability is due also to the introduction of creatures like vampires and werewolves into her previously magic-free existence.

 

Poor Bella (Kristen Stewart) has been through a year of life-threatening situations since she met Edward (Robert Pattinson), with more than one vampire threatening to harm her physically or sexually. Who wouldn’t have some sort of a breakdown-response to such intensity? The film, much more so than the book, gives us the sense that her nightmares and hallucinations are as much to do with this fear-soaked existence as they are to do with her lost love.

 

And, of course, this film marks the beginning of the book-lovers’ allegiances to either Team Edward or Team Jacob (seriously, you can buy the T-shirts!). And Taylor Lautner’s turn as the loveable Jacob Black only affirmed my own Team Jacob loyalty while, if the gasps from the women in the audience whenever he came on screen are any indication, converting some of Team Edward’s followers.

 

It’s worth noting the huge shift in aesthetics between the two films, undoubtedly due to the shift from Catherine Hardwicke’s direction in the first to Chris Weitz’s in the second. Whereas “Twilight” enjoyed a somewhat sublime, carefully orchestrated color palette of muted grays and greens that evoked dreamlike sequences, which I thoroughly loved for their sheer ingenuity, “New Moon” follows a much more conventional look. And while “Twilight” almost ran in cycles of vignettes that each crossed the feel of a crazy music video with a car commercial and which, again, heightened its playfulness, “New Moon” paces like any other blockbuster hit with a clearly marked dénouement, falling action and closing cliffhanger.

 

In sum, it’s a fun film of total escapism. If you love the series already, go see it. If you think this is going to be what hooks you on the series, think again. This is no entry point film. Rather, it functions as a lure to keep those of us who are already watching invested in this ever-expanding franchise.

 

Natalie Wigg-Stevenson is a doctoral candidate in theological studies and a fellow in the theology and practice program at Vanderbilt University. She is an ordained Baptist minister and co-founder of the pop-culture blog The Moth Chase.

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and action.

 

Director: Chris Weitz

 

Writer: Melissa Rosenberg and Stephenie Mayer

 

Cast: Kristen Stewart: Bella Swan; Robert Pattinson: Edward Cullen; Taylor Lautner: Jacob Black; Dakota Fanning: Jane; Ashley Greene: Alice Cullen; Nikki Reed: Rosalie Hale; Jackson Rathbone: Jasper Whitlock; Kellan Lutz: Emmett Cullen; and Peter Facinelli: Dr. Carlisle Cullen.

 

The movie’s official Web site is here.

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