Thus begins the new movie, Twilight, inspired by the first of four books about a young girl and her vampire boyfriend by Stephanie Meyers, and in the hands of virtually every young girl aged 11 to 20 in America right now. Four novels, seventeen million copies - get the picture? I have to admit, I didn't read the book and went in cold. And I was mesmerized. The story involves a sixteen-year-old high school student, Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart), who leaves her single mom in Arizona to go and live with her policeman dad in Forks, Washington. It's a gorgeous setting for this film: grey, perpetually foggy, green, mossy, mysterious, and, most importantly for vampires, sunless.
The first day of school, Bella is assigned to work with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) as her biology lab partner. They are drawn to one another, but for very different reasons. Edward's keen sense of smell and animalistic nature make Bella's unique scent compelling and maddening. Bella is dazzled by Edward's sheer beauty and mystery - "Your mood swings are giving me whiplash," she comments at one point.
We follow a Romeo-and-Juliet path here with a trio of bad vampires giving the good ones a bad name and threatening to disrupt the burgeoning love affair. James, played brilliantly by Cam Gigandet, is a particularly evil member of the gang. If you've seen the trailer once you've seen him lift his nostrils toward Bella saying to Edward, "You've brought a snack."
Bella and Edward grow close as she compulsively unravels the secrets behind his identity and his gifts. How, for instance, was he able to save her from an oncoming car so quickly when he was across the parking lot? She discovers what he is, and as she says to him her fear is not of his being a vampire but of losing him. Edward's challenge in the relationship is to deny himself the pleasure of the happy meal at Bella's neck. Parents across the country are no doubt hoping both their sons and daughters see the glories of teenaged abstinence.
On the phone with my fourteen-year-old niece, a Twilight devotee, I asked about the movie. It was a letdown, she reported, due largely to the accelerated development of the attraction, trust, and love of Bella and Edward. It didn't have the languid, dance-like pace of the book. And their love does seem hurried in the film like so many book-to-movie relationships.
But what I took from the film was the poignancy and teen angst of all this longing. And though I might have been out of my comfort zone in a movie theater surrounded by teenaged girls, there was something magnificent and real about their captivation with this beautiful, dangerous vampire boy and his story.