As The Twilight Saga: Eclipse continues to fire up the global box office, women of all ages find themselves consumed with an insatiable hunger, devouring everything on the film, its characters and the stars that play them, while reserving a special lust for its eternally devoted leading man. Their heightened state of aroused obsession has caused men everywhere to ask the burning question: "What's in it for me?"
Men wanting to inspire that kind of rapacious passion might try reading the novels by Stephenie Meyer on which the Twilight films are based. Think of it as research. Anything that sends the opposite sex into that much of a tizzy should be viewed as a textbook.
The films, which by necessity condense plot and scenes, play like cleaned-up CliffsNotes to those books which have been internalized by their "Twi-hard" fans who bring every romance-saturated memory of it with them into theaters, projecting it onto each frame like light on celluloid. The combination of page and film in their minds packs a powerful visceral punch. It's as if your favorite rock star hit a walk-off home run in the World Series, like lightening striking the same place twice. One can't help but sizzle.
The fact that the films and books have so strongly tapped into the sexual psyche of so many women says much of their desires, their place in our culture and society at large. At its heart is the romance between the supposedly "ordinary" human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the exquisitely formed vampire she loves. Throw in a frisky werewolf in the sometimes person of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) who literally has the hots for Bella, and you have the love triangle that reaches its peak with Eclipse. But the film's just a tip of the book's fire and iceberg.
The lesson for men of Edward is not how to seduce a woman, but how to get her to want to seduce you (homework to follow). While Jacob tempts Bella with a love that's "as easy as breathing," Edward takes her breath away because she loves him more than air, and every kiss and touch leaves her gasping for more. He's constantly adoring her with contact; taking her face in his hands, brushing his fingers across her cheek, securing a protective arm around her waist, sliding his lips along her jaw.
Instead of exploring their anatomy, they explore the anatomy of a kiss. It's first base to the umpteenth power, with true love multiplying their every liplock exponentially. The effect on Bella is beyond arousal. Her heart hammers, her skin flushes, her blood, which Edward craves, races in her veins. It's no wonder romance novels are often referred to as "pornography for women." Neither one is realistic.
The most sensuous scene in the book, omitted from the film, comes when Edward, returning in the night, awakens Bella, and demonstrates to her the benefits of his newly acquired big bed. Their reunion is comfortably sexy; a couple completely at home in each other, their conversation and every caress infused with a deep affection. You can almost hear the soft words and rhythmic breathing in the dark. But in a gender role reversal it is Edward who will stop Bella before they get "carried away." "Must I always be the responsible one?" he'll sigh. (Do vampires take cold showers?) It's every junior high school girl's dream: the beautiful, adoring boy who'll take them anywhere except too far.
It's an appealing escape in a culture that bombards them with images of tween starlets packaged like hookers to sell music and magazines, encouraging them to see their bodies as sexual before their minds are ready. As the pressure extends into adulthood, the message becomes more dangerous. (You never see cop shows about serial killers where the dead victims are all naked men.) In a world where real horror stories mar the nightly news, reporting women and children as prey, the idea of Edward's a relief. He's a natural predator turned mysterious protector who loves Bella so much, just being with her is enough.
"Tell me what you're thinking, please?" is a sexy line to a segment of society who, often judged by their looks, just want to be heard, but it isn't his only one. Edward's unabashedly romantic declarations ("You are my world now...the only one who has touched my heart...") roll off the tongue like foreplay, stimulating Bella to do more than just talk.
"Would you please stop trying to take your clothes off?" Now there's a line I've never heard in my entire post-pubescent life (and with any luck, I never will), but it's the ironically frustrated plea of Edward. They've come a long way since their first kiss as evidenced by Bella's perplexed retort, "Did you want to do that part?" (Of course he should do that part, otherwise what's the point of having him there?) But Edward has reasons for restraint. He's concerned for Bella's premarital immortal soul and her breakable mortal body. It's a big problem. With skin like marble, he could give new meaning to the term "Twi-hard," a fear perhaps shared by virginal viewers. But even without the bloodlust, can a vampire ever really have safe sex?
Speaking of oxymorons, last time I checked, that physiological act was predicated on blood flowing from a working pump. I mean the heart, of course, and Edward's doesn't beat. The only explanation given in the first three books appears in Twilight when Edward assures Bella "I may not be a human, but I am a man." Er...okay, if you say so.
But for all his talk of responsibility, the fourth installment, Breaking Dawn, will deliver a consummation with consequences. For now, the only things pregnant in the film Eclipse are the perpetually long pauses by its two leads, coming frequently mid-sentence. (Somewhere, Harold Pinter is impatiently drumming his fingers.) Trim a few of those pauses and they might have had time for that big bed reunion scene. But the predominantly female audience I saw it with didn't seem to mind, scoring every dreamy close-up with a symphony of sighs and screams. Judging from their orgasmic reactions, had Rob's head magically appeared on Taylor's torso, it would have induced hysteric convulsions from which some girls might never have recovered.
Apparently, when women say they want a six-pack, they're not talking about beer. If Jacob is the advertisement for abs, Edward is the argument for good grooming. Besides his strategically tousled hair, Bella finds his breath hypnotically sweet, and the delicious scent of his skin, intoxicating. Just a whiff makes her mind muddled. Bottle her blood with his breath and you might produce the world's most potent pheromone. Their craving for each other is like an addiction, making it physically painful to be apart.
It's why, though Edward never sleeps, he stays with Bella when she does, tucking her quilt between them so she won't freeze beside his icy skin. It's a comforting image for Twilight's youngest fans, and an over-protective parent's wet dream, some of whom have become "Twi-moms." Their busy modern lives leave them little time for romance as they juggle careers, kids and the vicissitudes of marriage. Sometimes, they just want to be tucked in, too, and if their bedtime reading revs their mood, who are men to complain?
In fantasy films, the parents, particularly missing ones, matter. It's part of the mythology (The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, E.T., Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, et al.) that the central character be orphaned, from a broken home or otherwise displaced before they can begin their journey. Be they dysfunctional, disenfranchised or just plain rebellious, the bigger the void, the more room to fill, and Bella, Edward and Jacob are all adapting to the absence of birth mothers. Bella doesn't just choose Edward, she chooses his family, one that will never leave or die. It doesn't hurt that the dad's a doctor. If you're in as much jeopardy as Bella always is, it's not just a convenience, it's a necessity. But to join the Cullen's unique clan of "blood relatives" she'll have to become one of them.
"You wouldn't have to change for me," is the healthy alternative Jacob presents, but Bella wants to change. Like the TV ad that preys on women's insecurities by hawking padded push-up bras with the slogan "You...only better," she's been sold the vampire look. With its promise of eternal youth and beauty, it's the mother of all plastic surgeries. But for my money, the best bras, like the best men, let you be yourself. Bella, on the other hand, has some serious self-esteem issues. She wants to be as breathtaking as Edward to level the playing field, but she has awakened the pre-transformed humanity in him and he wants her the way she is. His idealized love and acceptance is the hope of every girl who ever fantasized about attracting the gorgeous "unattainable" boy, Pattinson included, as if he himself were a possibility. (Give it up. He's not.) But a girl can dream, and what else are screenplays but daydreams on paper?
Personally, I identify with the porcelain-complexioned creatures of the night. I've never been much of a morning person, though the diet's a deal-breaker. (There isn't enough Kosher salt in the world...) Still, if I ever were granted eternal life, I hope I would have more to show for it than just a really killer CD collection. I guess an undying heavenly love will do for starters, and Bella's love for Edward transcends time. It's the real reason Bella wants to become a vampire. Without "death," there's no "do us part."
Bella's love for Jacob is more earthbound. Their most authentic kiss happens in the book when Jacob, in his wolf form, spontaneously licks Bella's face, showing his playful, impetuous side, but it's the later big smooch that gets all the play.
That grand kiss, with him bare-chested, sweeping her in his arms on a snow-capped mountaintop is the classic romance novel clinch. Throw a corseted bodice and heaving bosom on Bella and you'd have a tableau worthy of any grocery store paperback. But their film embrace is just a tamped down version of the book's in which Jacob grabs Bella "with an eagerness not far from violence." Unlike her encounters with Edward, Bella can let herself go, because, as she observes, "I didn't have to be careful with Jacob, and he certainly wasn't being careful with me." It's a passion that cannot, and perhaps should not, be sustained. As George Bernard Shaw once cautioned: "Imagine trying to shave oneself each day in that condition." But that was back in a day when razors, like werewolves and vampires, had bite.
Love, however, does last, and in the book, Edward and Jacob's love for Bella runs so deep, rather than lose her to each other, they both offer to share. Had Bella taken them up on that offer, it might have resulted in a film with an entirely different rating. (Think Twi-Hardcore.) Things come pretty close in the menage-a-tent scene in which a nearly naked Jacob warms up Bella with his body heat, as ice cold Edward hovers nearby. "I'm hotter than you," is Jacob's justification and the film's best new line. As the guys verbally duel over a sleeping Bella, the sacrifices that come with commitment are made titillatingly clear. Even unconscious, Bella's got it better than the rest of us, but where Jacob's her reason to steam, Edward's her raison d'etre.
For me, the sexiest scene in the films thus far occurred back in the first Twilight flick and it didn't involve physical contact at all. Bella, having had the epiphany that Edward's a vampire, waits for him in the school parking lot. When she sees him, a slow motion shot tracks her as she walks up to and past him, the camera turning with his head as their eyes connect, then continuing with them as he shadows her into the woods. With just one glance he knows she knows, he knows she wants him to follow her, and we know they'll never be the same. Suddenly it doesn't matter that she's the only person whose mind he can't read. Their bond is so deep, they can speak with a gaze, and she doesn't need to look back to know that he's there.
Some couples go their entire lives without ever achieving that kind of shorthand. Indeed, Edward's effect on Bella is electric, and women feel the spark as they connect to him through her. Meyer has made it easy for them to identify, writing the novels in first person, from Bella's point of view. It's why (besides the obvious reasons) the screams for the guys are so much louder. Bella's just the middleman, a stand-in for ourselves to vicariously experience the thralls of first love, once again or for the first time.
As a screenwriter, I'm always happy to see a female lead drive the story in this male dominated business that markets almost exclusively to boys. Why it's taken from Titanic to Twilight to remind them of the power of girl dollars is a sadly cyclical mystery. But Meyer is no dummy. Her Midnight Sun, feeds the female frenzy for all things Edward while giving the boys a voice, by telling Twilight from his point of view. The novel, a sort of young adult Rashomon, was aborted when a partial, early draft was reprehensibly leaked online. But there's no doubt the call of the wild (be it fans or financial) will eventually prevail on Meyer whose own romance with her male heartthrobs is too strong to resist. In fact, her most poignant writing in Eclipse comes in its last two pages which unravels in the mind of Jacob Black as a dialogue with his pack brothers while in his wolf form.
But it's Edward, the vampire who wants to be good, who has our hearts. As Bella explains, it isn't for his looks or wealth that she wants him, but because he's the most loving, unselfish, brilliant, and decent being she knows. It's what fuels her lust and the reason why sex with Edward is the most life-affirming thing she can think of - the one human experience she doesn't want to die without.
So, how can one inspire that kind of lustful adoration? Well, it wouldn't hurt if you were sculptured to perfection, freakishly fast and strong, could annihilate our enemies and deflect oncoming traffic with a single hand. But don't despair. If you want to be irresistible to someone you care for, here are a few attainable tips from Edward which will work just as well:
Kiss: Tenderly, urgently, to communicate, to explore, and for no reason at all.
Smolder: Look into our eyes like you want to learn us, then ask us what we're thinking. We're going to tell you anyway, so you might as well get credit for it.
Say Things We'll Savor: Telling us we're beautiful is fine, but tell us why and we'll believe you.
Be Gorgeous: Cultivate the best part of your DNA - your humanity. Chiseled cheekbones and chests make us look. Intelligence, integrity, imagination make us love.
Be Present: Be there in our dreams and share yours with us. Gift us yourself and you'll be rewarded.
Do Good: Use your unique superpowers to make the world better, safer, wiser. If you save the day in big and small ways, at night we just might tuck you in.
Touch: Caress with affection, to comfort, to soothe, to talk without words, in casual and important ways.
Do all of this well and often, for its own sake as Edward does, without sex as an ulterior motive, and you just might find yourself the sparkling object of a shivering obsession of someone you love, being kissed in a way that's as easy as breathing, but takes your breath away. Now, doesn't that sound seductive?
Above Photos: Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) keep their shirts on.
Jacob (Taylor Lautner) doesn't.
Photo Credits: Kimberley French/Summit Entertainment
What's your favorite romantic moment in the Twilight books or films - or your favorite romantic moment in your own life? Tell us in Comments.