Breaking Down Breaking Dawn: Part 1

These two-part last-book movie finales are becoming something of a regular occurrence, what with a two-part Deathly Hallows and a looming two-part Mockingjay. Though film audiences will have to wait another year for the completion of the film versions of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, part 1 of the last installment has just hit theaters. Here are my thoughts on the film, particularly in connection with its ties to the text and deeper meaning (read: there is much analysis of alchemy, hardly any of actors’ degrees of attractiveness, though I did love Billy Burke’s declaration, in his wedding tux, that he knew he was hot. Gotta love that Charlie). Those of you who have also seen the film I hope will help fill in any gaps I may have left ( I’ll do better after several careful DVD run-throughs). Those who are not much fussed over films or Forks, we’ll have some other posts for you soon. Now, grab that popcorn and that wedding invite (here’s mine), and let’s break down Breaking Dawn: Part 1.

The opening moments of the film struck my fancy right away. After Bella’s recitation of the novel’s epigraph, from Edna St. Vincent Milay, we have Jacob Black’s moment of flight after reading the invite to the Swan-Cullen nuptials, with a worried-looking Charlie also surveying his invitation. I like this set up with the fathers for a couple of reasons. Not only does it contrast nicely with the excitement of Bella’s mother and soon-to-be-sister-in-law Alice (who happily bosses about her superhumanly strong siblings as they move logs around for the ceremony). But it also connects beautifully with the Shakespearean motif of Breaking Dawn whose scaffolding comes from both Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice. Fathers and daughters are recurring themes in the bard’s plays (i.e. Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with Concerned Daddy Egeus dragging his daughter Hermia to the authorities to get her to marry the guy he picked out). I also suspect this Shakespeare hat-tip is behind the name change for the Volturi’s ill-fated human receptionist; she’s now named Bianca (as in The Taming of the Shrew) rather than Gianna.
The wedding everyone has been waiting for is actually the second ceremony shown in the film. The first is a nightmare Bella has on the eve of the wedding, slightly altered from the book. There is no child in this nightmarish vision, but true to the text, the Volturi make an appearance, along with the lifeless bodies of all Bella’s human family and friends. The dream is apparently brought on by Edward’s worriedly telling Bella about his "rebel phase" when he abandoned Carlisle to feed on murderers as a very accurate vigilante. The flashback scene is wonderful, with a red-eyed, early twentieth-century Edward at the movies watching Elsa Lancaster as the Bride of Frankenstein (possibly the only other movie monster whose hair is as cool as his) and killing a would-be attacker who threatens a young woman as she leaves the theater. I had wondered why this part of Edward's history had not yet made it into the films, but it fits nicely, and sets up the nightmare, which is a white wedding so creepy it's only missing a snarling Billy Idol. In fact, it's ALL white. The guests, everyone, is in white, with red rose petals, red bouquets, and red boutonnieres that transform into blood. It's nicely done, especially as the real wedding, a few moments later, is devoid of red. The wedding we've all been waiting for is very nice, and the guests include a very proud-looking Stephenie Meyer. The toasts are particularly delightful, and I suspect much of their content was ad libbed. I was not particularly wild about Bella's dress, which seemed more avant garde than throwback to 1917. But I did love the interweaving of the vows with the "prom song, "Flightless Bird," from the first film (several other clever homages to the earlier films are included, including some fun at the expense of the giant "graduation cap collage")

The trend of these films to progressively stick more closely to the text continues, with very few deviations. Bella's wedding night jitters (with a great soundtrack), Edward's agony over bruising his bride and his subsequent attempts to avoid intimacy with her, the reactions of the cleaning crew–all are faithfully brought in from the book. There are also some nice additions; I very much admired the use of chess playing, with a very familiar-looking alchemical red, white, and black set. Edward, of course, is obviously beating Bella every time, until she has a nice dream that includes her pieces in the position that, like the novel's cover, symbolizes her triumph at story' s conclusion.

But, of course, there is plenty of rough water to sail before the happy ending that we won't see for another year. Most of the movie, again, sticks with the text, but, of course, that is hard in segments that largely take place in people's minds. Sometimes, the film covers that bump nicely: when Edward reads Jacob's mind about the baby's desire for blood, for example, a very nicely worked scene. At other times, it is less successful: my movie buddy (a good friend to whom I introduced the books a while back) and I both thought the Big Wolf Throwdown when Jacob breaks off, was really not effective. The voice overs were confusing, and I'm just not sold on those CGI wolves that have never fit my image from the text.

We do see those wolves quite a bit, as the film ramps up the tension between Cullens and Quileutes with actual violence that is only averted (twice, actually ) by Jacob. The drawn-out fight scene seems contradictory based on the way the wolves handily dispatched the newborn army in Eclipse. I did like that Leah rushes to the rescue of Alice. It's really just dragged out for tension, to bring up the intensity, but I do appreciate that the film makers didn't go for the "cheap shot" cliff hanger ending I feared we'd get (with a cut off just as Jacob enters the room to kill the baby and Bella seems dead). Instead, we get the great imprinting on Renesmee, which is very nicely done with a flash-forward that depicts a wonderfully accurate-looking, grown up Nessie, very nice after the gruesome but tactfully filmed birth scene.

We also get Bella's transformation, not nearly so effective as the grueling description at the beginning of the novel's third section, but still done beautifully with special effects that fill out her emaciated form, shine up her hair, and give her skin a clear, ice-pale sheen. The last shot is the one I would have chosen: Bella's eyes snapping open to reveal red irises. Since we can't get Bella's internal agony in her own words, we see her mentally flipping through her life and see the venom working through her cells. At first, I didn't like this effect, which we see a couple of times. It just seemed odd, though I did like how it reminded me of effects used in the X-Men movies. Professor X and his Mutants are, of course, very important sources for Meyer. But I then I also loved the depiction of what is apparently Bella's last red blood cell being consumed by the venom so that it turns silver. The alchemical transformation is nicely reflected, plus it looks like the Eclipse logo.

Of course, there is a little coda scene after Bella’s awakening. Since the tension with the wolves is resolved, the conflict of the second part, with the Volturi, is previewed by a scene in which the three Creepy Ones (who look much different than last time, unfortunately) react to news of Bella’s change. While Marcus seems relieved, Aro reveals his desire to “collect” part of the Cullen clan for his own devices and vents his frustration on the hapless secretary, who gets to be lunch primarily because her spelling and grammar are going downhill ( a fact I plan to use with my students; so, you think grammar isn’t important! It could have saved this woman’s life!)

Overall, it is a quite faithful adaptation, with its primary flaws the result of the limitations of special effects and of the actors, some of whom just are not that good and with whom the film folks are somewhat stuck (though some of them have gotten better, I still contend Billy Burke, as Charlie, is the best actor in the franchise). I really did not like the way the closing titles were done, even though they used the red-black-white motif. The script just reminded me of a Quentin Tarentino film. It did not fit. Overall, my biggest disappointment was in not getting a big-screen Hunger Games trailer (I suspect the people who try to match up movies with trailers have absolutely no clue about what might actually appeal to an audience. We should have had at least an Avengers trailer, but then, that would require someone who saw that this is really a super-hero story, not a scary monster story.)

I may have further thoughts as I process and decipher my dreadful notes scribbled during the film, and certainly after the DVD, in which I can pause and read the titles of the books and see the arrangement of all those chess pieces. In the meantime, I hope that those of you who also saw the film will chime in with your thoughts while you wait for your thank-you card for that lovely wedding gift (talk about having to buy for a couple who really does have everything!).


  1. Huge Box Office!

    CNN’s ‘10 Lessons Learned from Twilight‘:

    10. One can both acknowledge the ridiculousness of lessons one through nine and still be in line for a midnight showing after reading the series (again).

    Perhaps the biggest lesson of all? Don’t look for nuggets of enlightenment in “Twilight.” As fans of the series could tell you, the biggest draw isn’t the outlandish plot points or the unrealistic romantic ideals, but the classic fantasy of love somehow conquering all.

    Muppets Do ‘Twilight’
    (H/T RevGeorge)

    Twilight Cast on Ellen

  2. RandomThoughts says

    …Aro reveals his desire to “collect” part of the Cullen clan for his own devices and vents his frustration on the hapless secretary, who gets to be lunch primarily because her spelling and grammar are going downhill ( a fact I plan to use with my students; so, you think grammar isn’t important! It could have saved this woman’s life!)

    Once again, you remind me of why I enjoy reading your commentaries! This was the best dialog of the entire movie for me, but then I just spent an entire week scoring truly appalling state mandated high school English essays. The Volturi aren’t the only ones ready to make grammatical crimes hanging offenses.

    I agree with your entire assessment of the movie, including Billy Burke being the best actor of the cast. He steals every single scene he’s in without even trying. I do think that the movie suffers, as have the previous ones, from some less than ideal acting and substandard CGI (the wolves) as you noted.

    I found myself especially moved by both the wedding/reception and Bella’s morning-after-the-wedding-night musing. The wedding, well, my eldest son is getting married next month–the first of my children to wed. And while it’s not at all the same, having a son marry as opposed to a daughter, there’s a lot of emotion in this event for me, especially because he’s marrying an extraordinary young woman who is everything I could have hoped, and more, for him. So much of the BD wedding scene resonated with me personally as a result, particularly Bella’s parents saying “goodbye” to her. Even if Edward had been an ordinary guy, this wedding marks the point where life changes dramatically, where daughter Bella becomes wife Bella, and the parental responsibility truly ends. For me, BD captured this bittersweet reality beautifully.

    As far as Bella’s next-morning musings, in an age when first-time sex is all too often furtive and without any kind of commitment behind it, it’s really rather wonderful to be reminded of what a woman feels when her first time is with the man she’s just married. No shame nor regrets, only a realization of how fulfilling emotionally as well as physically the act really can be. That it left her bruised was a bigger concern to Edward than to her, just as in the book, and I thought the movie played on that well.

    I’ve never understood the horror some readers have over the way Meyer portrayed the aftereffects of the wedding night. For me, the point is not that Edward wrecked the bed, and unintentionally left marks on Bella, it’s that no matter what Edward does, he perceives himself as a monster. His perception of himself is distorted, and thus his perception of Bella is distorted as well (she’s too fragile, she can’t possibly love him as much as he does her, she doesn’t understand what she’s asking for in being changed, etc. etc. etc.). The BD movie touched on this several times, most notably with Edward’s revelation of his past to Bella, and his comment that their unborn baby wasn’t like him after all, but rather like her, “pure and innocent.”

    I found the birth and transformation scene absolutely riveting. I thought the way Bella’s mind went back over her own life, mostly regarding her experiences with Edward, but then back to her own infancy with her parents before their divorce, was masterful. It reminded the viewer of Bella’s experience when she was bitten in the ballet studio in the first movie. In so many ways, this movie to me seemed to tie directly back to the very first film; Meyer clearly showing us this is where Bella was headed from the day she moved to Forks.

    The greatest strength of the Breaking Dawn novel, and what I hope is the key element in the final movie, is Bella finally being recognized as a strong woman. Not just physically, because of her new vampirism, but emotionally and psychologically as well. The foreshadowing of her chess-win dream is a great hint in that direction. I don’t think her marrying Edward, nor her willingness to carry a life-threatening pregnancy to term, make her less strong. I think that she knows she’s stronger with Edward than without him, and that her willingness to push herself to the very limit of life to give birth to Edward’s child is part of that strength. Part of knowing who she is, and what she wants, and being determined to achieve it.

    For all its weaknesses, the movie did not leave me unsatisfied. It reminded me of why I enjoyed the books, and the movie series.

  3. Wow, those are some wonderful Random Thoughts (and many echoes of the ones I had, as well). Thank you for adding to the analysis so nicely! I hope you’ll visit with us here often (And I hope the Headmaster gets your email in case some catastrophe renders me incapable of writing about the last installment! He’ll need a replacement.) Thanks, and blessings to your son and soon-to-be-daughter-in-law! (I hope your other children don’t take your son out to kill mountain lions for a bachelor party, though I did like that scene too, as I am rather partial to the characters of Emmett and Jasper).

  4. Thanks for the wonderful commentary. I haven’t been able to stop thinking of BD since I saw the movie–twice! The opening downpour was a nice alchemical nod at the beginning of the rubedo movie. The wedding was lovely and the lavender color choice was perfect to bring a hint of mourning to the last chapter of Bella’s human life.

    I’m confused by your mention of a second Volturi scene after Bella’s awakening. The version I saw ended with the awakening and the creepy trio only appeared in Bella’s dream wedding.

    As a teacher, I have grown used to seeing the boys in my classes read the Twilight novels, but I was surprised at the number of men, not ‘guys,’ but men, mind you, in the theater, several of them there solo. A fifty-something couple sat in front of me, and he was feeding her the backstory throughout the movie.

  5. Oh Renee, I wish we’d caught you before the second time through! The Volturi postscript happens about a third of the way through the credits!

  6. RandomThoughts says

    Elizabeth, that’s very high praise indeed, coming from you, and I thank you for it. I’ve been following everything on Hogwarts Professor for about two years now, but hardly ever feel compelled to post (I’m a bit in awe of the level of literary analysis here). In this case, because this particular novel has such a polemic reader response, because I found it and the movie despite their weaknesses to be surprisingly captivating, and because I truly don’t think most critics “get” the books nor the movies at all, I thought I might have something to add to the discussion here.

    Renee, The wedding was lovely and the lavender color choice was perfect to bring a hint of mourning to the last chapter of Bella’s human life. I hadn’t thought of that; good call! Colors certainly are significant in these movies and used in wardrobe to indicate Bella’s relationship with Edward and her state of mind. If memory serves, at one point during their honeymoon, when Edward’s finally gotten over his fear of hurting Bella during sex, and they’re lounging together, they both are wearing identical colored grey knit shirts. I thought immediately of how it indicated they were finally on the ‘same page’.

  7. I like the lavender, too, as it is a nice alchemical replacement for red sometimes (see our comments on the Weasley -Delacour nuptials for more on that). I’ve been trying to get a good picture of Meyer’s wedding dress, which I think may be red and white, but it looks pink or lavender, too. I also like the rain, Renee, which I think is a hat-tip to the rain of the first film (it rains at the beginning of Eclipse, too, with snow and sun at the end), plus the alchemical set up with this very watery part of the story (the first section of the book is on a tropical island; you don’t get much more watery!)

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