In honor of the film Twilight opening in theaters today, here's part of a feministy Salon essay by Laura Miller. Of course I plan to see the film, strictly for research purposes of course:
Comparisons to another famous human girl with a vampire boyfriend are inevitable, but Bella Swan is no Buffy Summers. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was at heart one of those mythic hero's journeys so beloved by Joseph Campbell-quoting screenwriters, albeit transfigured into something sharp and funny by making the hero a contemporary teenage girl. Buffy wrestled with a series of romantic dilemmas -- in particular a penchant for hunky vampires -- but her story always belonged to her. Fulfilling her responsibilities as a slayer, loyalty to her friends and family, doing the right thing and cobbling together some semblance of a healthy life were all ultimately as important, if not more important, to her than getting the guy. If Harry Potter has vampire-loving, adolescent female counterpart, it's Buffy Summers.
Dana Stevens reviews the film for Slate today:
The paperback cover of Twilight, the first of four best-selling teen-vampire fantasy novels by Stephenie Meyer, shows a pair of pale female hands in close-up, proffering the reader an obscurely menacing apple. I haven't been able to make it through that book's 500-plus pages of turgid vampire-ogling. ("He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn't sleep.") But after seeing director Catherine Hardwicke's flawed yet transfixing adaptation of the book, I can understand the appeal of that poisoned apple, and I think I might want another bite.
The feminist critique of the Twilight phenomenon points, quite rightly, to all that's reprehensible about the Twilight universe: the heroine's passivity and masochism, her utter lack of grrl-power spunk. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is the anti-Buffy; she's a mortal high-school girl committed not to slaying vampires but to being slain by them. Make that one particular vampire: Bella's highest ambition is to be snacked upon by the lavender-lidded, incandescent-chested Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and thus to join him forever in the realm of the permanently teenage dead...
...Hardwicke, whose first film was the harrowing mother-daughter melodrama Thirteen (2003), has a keen sense memory for female adolescence—not just the social insecurity of that time but the grandiosity that can make self-destructive decisions feel somehow divinely fated. Unwholesome, sure, but arguably no more so than Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, two better-written Gothic romances about young women in thrall to a remote, charismatic, often cruel hero. And while Pattinson's Edward is a bit of a vain prig, no one you'd want to risk your immortal soul for, his worthiness doesn't really matter. Twilight is a story about pining for the one person you can, and should, never have, and who among us hasn't at least once experienced that vampiric craving? As a life lesson for teenage girls, Twilight (excuse the pun) sucks. As a parable for the dark side of female desire, it's weirdly powerful.