Monday, 17 May 2010

In New Moon (2009, dir Chris Weitz), Bella Swan assumes greater agency than in the preceding film, Twilight, as she takes on responsibility for modulating the actions of the American Indian youth, Jacob Black. The clammy romance brought forward from the earlier film changes, to our relief, to drama when Edward Cullen is forced to leave Forks for family reasons. Bella is tortured by his absence but soon adopts Jacob in a close and sincerely-held friendship that is made more poignant when she learns of his lycanthropy.

It isn't the werewolves who are killing people but, rather, vampires who still roam the forest. We know that Victoria is waiting for an opportunity to close in on Bella.

The Indian youths who carry the werewolf gene prowl the forest like an outlaw posse in search of bad, bad men. They embrace Bella. She enters their circle in the same way she entered the Cullen clan's tight family unit. Tensions run high when Alice Cullen returns to warn Bella that Edward is in trouble. He plans to break vampire law by revealing himself to the humans. Alica and Bella dash off to Italy where the Volturi - "the closest thing to vampire royalty" - live in archaic splendour.

She's just in time, but her bravery brings her into the heart of the coven. Her life is spared only because Edward promises to "turn" her. The Volturi thinks she knows too much to remain human.

Edward and Bella plight their troths to each other in the movie's final scene, which twinkles to black just as Edward asks Bella to marry him.

But the filmmakers may have taken heed of objections to Twilight, which was called demeaning to women as it placed a young girl in a position where her only way to attain agency was within the romantic embrace of a man. In the new film, Bella becomes central. Instead of romance, with Jacob she finds the kind of true friendship we sometimes ask boys and girls to prefer over one where marriage is the sole possible outcome.

As with Edward, Jacob promises never to hurt Bella, despite the temptations. The risks with werewolves, it seems, are equally as dangerous to life and limb as those with vampires.

It's the danger that becomes paramount in the new film. And Bella faces it practically alone. Early on she conquers dangerous humans. It's only a matter of time before she takes charge of Jacob and his posse of furry friends. And when Alice turns up, Bella again makes the decisions. This time she must come to Edward's aid. Only her love can save him.

And save him she does, in a scene punctuated by a dash through an Italian fountain. The shallow water splashes over her sneakers. She throws herself between Edward and the human onlookers, sheltering him from their eyes as his skin sparkles as only the skin of a vampire can do, and pushes him back into the shelter of a stone-lined hallway. Bella takes the plunge more than once in this movie, and comes out of the water alive and with poise enough for the most punctilious feminist commentator.

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