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Video Reviews

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror
Cast
Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan; Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen; Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black; Ashley Greene as Alice Cullen; Nikki Reed as Rosalie Hale; Peter Facinelli as Dr. Carlisle Cullen; Elizabeth Reaser as Esme Cullen
Director
Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, Gods and Monsters)
Distributor
Summit Entertainment
In Theaters
November 18, 2011
On Video
February 11, 2012
Reviewer
Bob Hoose
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

Through three books and their accompanying movies, Bella Swan and her vampire hunk Edward Cullen have been moving ever closer to their marital vows and what they hope to be a happily-ever-after. Literally.

Now the day has arrived.

Nobody's really sure how a human 18-year-old can live with a preternaturally strong undead spouse … but they both want to give it a go. No matter what the complications, their love will see them through. After a wedding, that is. Edward insists.

And what a wedding it turns out to be. Smiles abound as the nuptials play out in an idyllic woodland setting. The beautiful couple say their vows and kiss tenderly. Celebrators clink glasses. Parents wipe away secret tears. And even jilted werewolf Jacob shows up to wish the bride well and growl one last time in her groom's direction.

Then it's off to Brazil and an island getaway. A luxurious honeymoon retreat with a sumptuous suite and a moonlit waterfall grotto just steps away from the back door. Now this is a honeymoon! After turning the bedroom furniture to kindling with his wedding-night passion, though, Edward is fearful for his young bride's well-being. Her bruised body makes him back away before anything bad happens.

But it turns out that something has already happened. A something that no one thought was possible. In only a few days there's proof. Bella is pregnant.

This baby is going to be a serious blessing … or the bane that breaks Bella into bits.

Positive Elements

Breaking Dawn - Part 1 very clearly promotes the joy and closeness of committed marriage, right alongside the companion virtue of strong family bonds. Vampires and werewolves can be fang-toothed villains, to be sure, but in this case they're also impassioned protectors and devoted friends and lovers. After getting married, Edward fears that his strength might hurt Bella, and he apologizes profusely for her inadvertent bruises after their night of lovemaking. Later, he vows to keep her alive and safe no matter what the sacrifice to himself.

Jacob commits to the same thing even though it means he must stand against his pack. And two fellow packmates end up helping him provide that protection. Jacob asks one if he's willing to fight his own brother or sister, and the younger werewolf replies that he is "if it's the right thing to do."

The Cullen family is equally dedicated to Bella, even pushing back their ravenous thirst to keep watch over her. And when Bella and her dad are about to walk down the aisle. She pleads, "Please just don't let me fall, Dad." He replies, "Never!"

Edward worries that he isn't good for Bella. Telling her of past mistakes he's made, he talks of killing evil men and when looking in their eyes, "seeing what I was capable of." Bella's having none of that, though. When he expresses fear that after being with him for a while she might not like what she sees in the mirror, she replies that she hopes she'll see someone like him, "someone capable of courage and sacrifice and love."

Bella shows her own brand of courage and sacrifice and love when she refuses to take Edward's concerned advice to "get rid" of their unborn child. Even though it's certain that the baby will kill her, she stands by her choice and clings to the hope that she can last long enough to give birth. Rosalie sides with Bella in this case, ferociously defending the baby's right to live and repeatedly reprimanding Alice for calling it a "fetus." "Say the word, Alice," she instructs, "Baby!"

Spiritual Content

Even though this is clearly a movie about vampires and werewolves, it works hard to skirt the twisted spirituality behind those legendary (evil) creatures. Still, the life-sucking baby-vamp and physical pain that Bella suffers hangs a significant amount of flesh on their particular brand of morbid darkness.

A scared woman, who's one of the housekeepers at their island retreat, calls Edward a "demon," and Jacob remarks that Bella is carrying a demon. When the housekeeper places her hand on Bella's stomach, she hisses, "Death!"

Alice says she can no longer see Bella's future (which is Alice's vampire power) when Bella becomes pregnant. Edward's mind-reading ability comes into play when he "hears" his unborn child's thoughts.

Bella recites a slightly adjusted paraphrase of a Bible verse, saying, "At a certain age a child is grown and puts away childish things." We see a huge cross being used as decoration in the Cullen home. Song lyrics include the line, "We complement each other/Just like Satan and Christ."

Sexual Content

In an MTV interview, actress Kristen Stewart spoke of the movie's marriage bed scene: "It was so weird, it didn't even feel like we were doing a scene within a Twilight film. I was like, 'Bella! What are you doing? Wow! What is happening here?!' It was very surreal."

The result of that surrealism are intimate scenes that show much more skin than previous Twilight films. Bella bares her back and side to the camera as she and Edward clutch, hug and caress, in bed and while standing in the water of the bay. Long sequences of tender, partially sheet-covered embraces fill the screen. And one moment of married coitus finds Edward lying on top of Bella while he reaches up and snaps the headboard in two in his passion. We briefly see one other sexual position. And, of course, they kiss a number of times. 

Bella dresses in a range of tight shorts-and-tee combos, a bikini and a few slinky lingerie outfits. Pregnant, we see her protruding stomach. Jacob strips out of his shirt once and several vampire women at the wedding wear formfitting, low-cut dresses.

The status of Edward's virginity is remarked upon, as is a friend's conclusion that Bella's getting married (at 18!) because she's already pregnant. A comment is made about the bride not getting much sleep. Doing research of half-human, half-vampire babies, the Cullens page through books with drawings of (sometimes grotesquely disfigured) nude women. In Rio, street dancers' revelry includes couples hugging and kissing.

Violent Content

The book was bloody. And so is the movie. Bella's pregnancy is an ongoing, torturously painful thing to experience. As she is essentially consumed and ripped apart from the inside by her unborn child, her body contracts and her bones look set to push out through her skin. She cries out as the rapidly growing rock-hard baby breaks her ribs. She appears to break her back while trying to stand.

A C-section of sorts, performed by Edward and his family, is a bloody and visceral affair. (Never mind that we don't actually see the blade push through her skin.) Before it's over, Edward is covered in Bella's blood and appears to bite through her abdomen wall to finish the procedure. The gore-covered child is pulled free, and the camera gazes down on the wasted, frail Bella as she lies, barely covered, in a pool of her own blood.

Of this scene, actor Robert Pattinson told MTV, "Some moments were so incredibly extreme, and there's definitely a version of this movie that's a hard-R rating, possibly even NC-17." As it is, quick camera cuts preserve the film's PG-13 status.

Other violence includes a flashback showing Edward hunting down killers for the "thrill of the hunt." He attacks and bites the throats of a handful of men. Bella has a dream in which the scattered rose petals at her wedding morph into pools of blood seeping from the (stacked) dead bodies of her friends and relatives. The werewolves clash with the Cullens; gnashing teeth chomp in search of flesh, and bodies are thrown in all directions.

After their wedding night, Bella reveals multiple bruises in the shape of fingerprints pressed into her skin. When the child is first handed to a dying Bella, it promptly bites her. Edward bites her repeatedly on different parts of her body in an attempt to "revive" her. He stabs a huge syringe filled with his venom into her chest when her heart stops beating.

Crude or Profane Language

Two uses of "h‑‑‑" and one of "d‑‑ned."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Wedding guests toast with and drink from glasses of champagne. Bella's dad announces, "Well, I plan on getting drunk." Rio's street dancers also drink.

Other Negative Elements

The Twilight books and movies have always been something of a metaphor for the desire and passion of young love. But not a steady, real-life love nipped at by doubt and all those ugly bits that always come along for the ride. No, Twilight presents an über-idealized form of that heated stuff, fronted by beautiful, all-powerful, devoted demigods who step in to replace the flaw-filled men of our world.

Bella has long wanted to join their everlasting ranks, casting aside her humanity in the process. But Edward has resisted. Now she gets her wish, and he has no choice. Without giving too much away, it's safe to report that the resulting bliss (after the agony) is not going to be flaw-filled.

More mundane is the fact that the camera watches closely as Bella vomits in the toilet. To feed the baby inside of her, Bella sucks up blood with a straw. We see her severely emaciated shoulder blades and rail-thin arms from the back as she lets her robe drop from her shoulders to get into the bath.

Bella repeatedly lies to her concerned father about her condition and the reason she hasn't returned home.

Conclusion

The twilight has faded into the black of night for Bella, just when she thought Edward's light would envelop her. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 leaves behind high school crushes and vampire power struggles and leaps in another direction: the death-defying duties and dangers of … marriage. The wedding is romantic enough. The gal-filled crowd around me at an advance screening ooohed at a sparkling-skinned Edward dressed up in his bridegroom best. They cheered when Jacob stripped off his shirt. But then fell into a more quiet and introspective mood, quickly realizing that there's more than beefcake appeal and the pangs of teen temptation at play this time. There are much more adult themes to explore:

The very real feelings of loving beginnings and bittersweet endings.

The nervousness and anticipation of a young woman contemplating her wedding night.

The wonder—and fear—of becoming pregnant.

The self-sacrificial choice to bravely resist abortion and give life to a child who might just kill you to return the favor.

But saying the movie sides with choosing life is complicated by the supernatural nature of Bella's "child." Is she a blessing? Or a curse—a deadly abomination? So it's into this unsettling corner of the undead world that the fourth Twilight film ultimately intrudes. Snarling werewolves, deadly vampires, ripped flesh and guttural growls aside, there's a palpable darkness tiptoeing around behind these scenes.

The film wants us to ignore the bloodsucking nastiness of it all by masking it in selfless actions and sweet baby smiles. And it even asks Twihards to root for a supernaturally dark death so it can sink in its fangs and magically save the day. But if you're looking, the truth is driven home by the impact on Bella's withering body, her internally snapping bones and eventually stone-cold heart. This is a vampire movie after all.

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