Saturday, May 5, 2012

Do The "Twilight" Films Pass The Bechdel Test?

Brace yourselves, everyone, I'm talkin' Twilight.

In the midst of my apparent finals psychosis I decided to, over the past two days, watch all four of the Twilight films (whilst studying, naturally).  If it makes you feel any better, I only watched them with the Rifftrax, which were amazing and surprisingly insightful at times.  Now, these films were straight-up awful.  I have not read the books, nor will I ever, and I know a lot of feminist writing has been done on them.  I'm not going to cover the books today, I just want to talk about the Golden Rule of feminist cinema: The Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test is really simple on first glance, but not so simple when examined in the context of actual films.  All it requires is that "1. It has to have two (named) women in it, 2. they talk to each other, 3. about something other than a man."  Sure, that sounds like a good rule, right?  I'd like to see some characters I could relate to onscreen!  But exactly how far does "talking about a man" extend?  For example, does Iron Man 2 pass the Bechdel test because Pepper Potts and Natasha Romanoff talk to each other about business?  Or does it not count because they talk about the business that is owned and run by Tony Stark?  It's a question of the subtlety of our culture and the patriarchy entwined in it.  I ran into this same problem looking at the Twilight films.  Let's break it down film-by-film.

Obviously, there are spoilers for all four films in here, and if you had any interest in seing them I would recommend that you don't but I would also recommend that you not read this post.

Now, there is a bit in the beginning here when the main character (Bella, ugh) and her mother talk about how Bella likes living in a new town.  To be fair, by the end of that conversation the mother has asked her daughter if there are any cute boys in school.  Then, at the end of the film, the mother and daughter have a conversation about Bella's EXTENSIVE INJURIES when she's in the hospital after being attacked by some vampires.  There are several examples of two female characters being onscreen simultaneously but for the most part they are talking about who is taking them to prom, or explaining Edward (the other main character, even more ugh) to new-in-town Bella.  I'm going to give this one a pretty solid thumbs-down on the Bechdel Test front because the majority of it--as has been pointed out on countless other web sites before--is just the two main characters staring wordlessly and acting-lessly at each other for two hours.  "Favorite" part of this film: when Edward says that he is dangerous to her and wants to leave Bella (true story) and she immediately flips shit and starts yelling at him that he can't do that and she'll die without him, etc. etc.  That's the message about relationships we want to send our teenage daughters for sure.  Moving on.

New Moon
I'm not gonna lie here, this was one of the most boring movies I've sat through in a very long time.  And there is no point in this film where Bella speaks to another female character without it being about a man, at all.  Because the entire film is pretty much summed up with Edward leaving her and her literally going crazy (SHE ACTUALLY HAS NIGHT TERRORS).  She doesn't talk to other female characters more than a couple times in this film because she is SO ALONE and SO SAD.  And then Jacob (the werewolf-slash-other-love-interest) comes along and oh my God is he boring.  Seriously.  Anyway, she talks to some of the members of his "pack" that are female but mostly just about Jacob and their being werewolves and shit.  It's the worst.  Seriously, do not watch this movie.  Bella tries to kill herself (she claims she just wants the danger but c'mon, let's call it what it is) like four times so she can SEE EDWARD AGAIN and then he thinks she's dead and goes to kill HIMSELF and then his sister (female character...opportunity for non-man conversation!) shows up and tells Bella all about Edward going to commit sparkly vampire suicide (opportunity lost!).  Then they go to Italy and there are a few members of the Vampire Dementors (they're like the vampire leaders I guess?) that are female but Bella, once again, only talks to them about her Twu Wuv with Edward while they try to kill him.  I seriously don't know how I wasted two hours of my life on this.  "Favorite" part?  When Jacob tries to kiss Bella and she punches him and her father congratulates Jacob on trying.  WHAT THE HELL, DAD?  But more on that in...

I'm pretty sure this is actually a movie about the love-hate relationship between Edward and Jacob with Bella kind of thrown in, but whatever.  Anyway, Bella is being hunted by this vampire who is mad because Bella had her boyfriend and his family kill HER vampire boyfriend in the first movie (sorry I forgot to mention that earlier, it was so boring).  So Jacob and Edward fight a bunch at the beginning and then team up to protect Bella (who is surely such a peach that she deserves it) against a horde of bloodthirsty vampires.  To the credit of this film, there are some incredibly mediocre fight scenes with some fairly badass female parts.  And then there's the part where Bella wants to bone Edward and he's all "Here's a sparkly engagement ring instead to distract you!" because PREMARITAL SEX IS BAD, KIDS.  Now here's the thing--I was sitting through this film thinking "this is the exact opposite of the Bechdel Test--there are almost never even two female characters onscreen at once, let alone talking."  But then, Bella's mom comes in to sort of save the day again.  There is a bit at the very beginning where Bella and Edward go to visit her mom in Florida.  She and her mother DO have a conversation while Edward hovers out of the sparkle-making sun staring at Bella protectively.  And it is about their relationship and Bella graduating high school, which is cool, but they don't go the whole conversation without talking about Edward, so I'm still fairly certain that doesn't count.  "Favorite" part of this movie would have to be perhaps one of the most openly WTF things I've ever seen earnestly done on film.  Jacob and Edward are outside Bella's father's house about to start fighting with each other when Bella's wonderful father comes outside and yells at them, "Hey guys, come on, my daughter's not worth it!"  I just don't even know.

Breaking Dawn Part 1
This is where it gets tricky.  And disgusting.  In this one, Bella and Edward get married (it should be noted that, during their wedding, Bella has constant I-just-sharted face) and then go on their honeymoon.  They go ahead and break the hymen (and the bed!) and then continue on to attempt to have the most sexless honeymoon ever because EDWARD GAVE HER BRUISES the first time they had sex.  Finally they are overcome with the pure eroticism of the game of chess they're playing and do it once again.  And then Bella discovers she's pregnant.

I want to pause here for a second because we need to have a quick anatomy lesson.  I did the math on this immediately and I call so. much. bullshit.  So, we all know how the menstrual cycle works, correct?  You start your period on Day 1 of your monthly cycle and then ovulate sometime between Day 14 and Day 17, typically.  Your cycle usually lasts 28 days, so that's between two weeks and eleven days before you start bleeding again.  Now, when Bella realizes she's late they have been on their honeymoon for ten days.  Typically, you don't worry about being late until at least five days after you expected to get your period (even the most regular woman can have her off months, and for women who are less regular you really shouldn't start worrying until it's been more than a week).  This would mean that Bella would have been five days away from getting her period the first time they had sex.  I am by no means saying it is impossible to become pregnant when you aren't ovulating, but it is highly unlikely.  Someone out there is goign to say that Edward has super-sperm that chewed its way through her cervix and journeyed up into her fallopian tube to GET TO THAT DAMN EGG.  No, just no, absolutely not. Not to mention, they really should have practiced safe sex if she didn't want to have a vampire spawn growing inside her.  But I digress.

So Bella gets pregnant, somehow, with a half-vampire-half-human demon baby that apparently grows like twelve times faster than a normal kid.  And then come the choice questions.  My boyfriend and I had quite a debate about this because Edward wants her to terminate the pregnancy but she insists that she wants the baby.  Boyfriend was quite certain I would be up in arms by this, but I shrugged it off and said, "Choice is about both choosing to have an abortion and choosing to keep a baby, the important thing is that the woman makes that choice."  But he had a good point in saying that Bella was putting her life in danger by keeping the vampire baby.  This is true, but I have to admire that Bela's character stood firm against everyone else and decided to keep the child.  Her character certainly didn't make any other decisions through the other three films.  Anyway, then it gets gross and Bella starts drinking blood because the baby craves it and then the baby gets too big too fast and shatters her spine, yadda yadda yadda, they start to perform surgery, Edward bites the baby out of Bella's uterus (dude, there were a bunch of scalpels like RIGHT THERE), baby comes out, Bella starts to die, Edward starts biting her all over her body to turn her into a vampire.  Movie ends.  Oh, and Jacob immediately decides that Bella and Edward's baby is his soul mate and "imprints" on her (when Boyfriend realized what was happening he was yelling obscenities at the TV for like three minutes, it was awesome).

Sigh.  No.  This movie is complicated because female characters DO have conversations but they are almost always about the baby, and that's where it gets complicated.  Does talking about the baby mean talking about Edward as he is the father of the child?  I'll allow that one to be left up to you.  Also, a lot of this film consists of Edward (a man) trying to get other male characters to convince Bella to get an abortion, which is very much not cool.  "Favorite" part of this movie?  I cackled hysterically when Edward bent down to bite the baby out of Bella's uterus, then stood back up and wiped his face on his sleeve.  Oh my God, it was the most ridiculous image I've ever seen.

In conclusion, no.  These movies do not pass the Bechdel test, not even a single one of them.  And the majority of the messages they send are horrifically negative ones about women, strength, power, and relationships.  At one point Edward takes the motor out of Bella's car so she can't go see Jacob.  That is the moment you know to get out, not accept an engagement ring.  I am highly concerned about what this series is doing to a generation of teenage girls who now expect this to be love.  And it makes me sad to realize that our blockbuster films aren't really doing any better at all when it comes to having fleshed-out, interesting, strong female characters.

I guess I could be mistaken, though.  I'll have to wait for Breaking Dawn 2: Vampire Fetus Boogaloo.


  1. Shit is shit. No matter how you dress it up, shit in a Gucci original is still shit. This is the most pointless blog ever. One point...people were paid a lot of money to make these movies, and people paid a lot of money to see them. This, in and if itself, is a sad commentary on our society. And that female people were the bigger number of people paying is just sad. Get some respect for yourself.

  2. I found your blog by luck, but... you're amazing, and said things that was my dream for ages about this movie and the books (even if you don't read them, you're right, so damm right...). And I love the 'favorite parts'. Thanks a lot for expressing yourself here and to misteries of the universe that lead me to here.