Rebecca Barry: Why teens are staying up until Twilight

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The DVD cover for the movie Twilight.
The DVD cover for the movie Twilight.

He turned to look at me with a wistful expression. His golden eyes held mine and I lost my train of thought. I stared at him until he looked away.

This incredible line of prose belongs to one of the biggest pop culture phenomena of recent times. Where have you been? Dead? What do you mean you haven't read or seen Twilight?

Sales of the four books by Mormon housewife Stephenie Meyer have now reached 17 million, the CD and movie soundtrack both went to number one on Billboard's chart and the film netted $3.4 million at the New Zealand box office, not bad considering Oscar behemoth Slumdog Millionaire earned $4 million.

Tomorrow, New Moon, the second of the Twilight film adaptations that has girls (and women) swooning over a barely legal actor - who goes by the name of Robert Pattinson in daylight hours - premieres in Auckland.

Hundreds of excited movie-goers will head to Sylvia Park, proclaiming their allegiance to either Edward, a vampire, or Jacob, a werewolf. As fans pay homage in blood red costume, non-believers not prepared to sit through the film are filled with disturbed curiosity: what's the deal with Twilight? And why doesn't my hair look like that dead guy's?

To enter the Twilight zone, you don't have to be female. You don't even have to be going through puberty to get hot flushes at the thought of a skinny metrosexual with a vitamin D deficiency sinking his eye teeth into your neck. The person who first recommended I watch Twilight has teenagers of her own.

I thought I'd rather drink blood than watch Twilight. Nothing about it appealed. Not the vegetarian vampires. Not Pattinson, the pillow-haired British actor who is bigger than Jesus right now. Not the Chuck Taylor-addicted Kristen Stewart as the clumsy new kid, supposedly in a real-life romance with the lead actor. It all looked so brooding, so serious, so emo, it taunted me not to like it.

I liked it. Yes it's an absurd coming-of-age tale that looks like one long music video. But what holds it together is the love story, in the tradition of all great cinematic love stories, steeped in longing and danger, only more zeitgeisty in tone. Girl meets vampire. Girl falls in love with vampire. Vampire falls in love with girl. Girl's life is threatened by baddie vampires. That's about it.

Should we be worried that this drama seemingly bursting with big themes - identity, mortality, abstinence - is really just a chaste Mills and Boon in a gothic trench coat? What does it say about us that it's gone beyond the realms of guilty pleasure and off the charts?

Perhaps it's the less-is-more sensibility that made Jaws so popular - you don't need to see much of the shark to understand the fantasy. We're so desensitised to on-screen sex, it's become meaningless. There's no sex in Twilight until later in the saga but by then they're married. The film is way more charged with erotic tension than bonehead comedies like Superbad, and this time it's the guy saying no. The scenes in which the beautiful star runs a hand over Bella's arm or breathes on her neck are foreplay, just as gushing water symbolises you-know-what in Bollywood movies. The vampire looks like a teenager but unlike every other teenage boy, he's not gagging to take the protagonist's virginity. As much as Bella wants to get it on with him, he physically can't. He's James Dean without a penis.

It's fairly obvious what the attraction for women is. You always want what you can't have. A relatable girl whose man will do anything for her, probably even the housework if she asked nicely.

And despite being popular without really trying, Bella transcends her low self-esteem when she hooks up with a super-human creature. Who needs to be the cheerleader-type (it's set in the US after all) when you can fly home?

The second film is more male-skewed than the first if the books are anything to go by. Edward breaks up with Bella (for her own good of course). Yet most guys refuse to admit to joining the Twilight fan club.

A male friend recently said how awful it was, then begged to come with me to the sequel. Does he want some tips? Because as male heroes go, Edward is too good to have sprung from nature. Poor old Robert Pattinson will never live up to Edward because the character is perfect.

Even when he is drawn as poetically as this: "Edward stood in the halo of the porch light, looking like a male model in an advertisement for raincoats."

- NZ Herald

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