'Twilight' will get audiences clapping

If you've never heard of "Twilight," either the book or the movie, well, no worries. It's not easy to sustain even a toehold in pop culture. For the young, it's the air they breathe. For older folks, keeping up, figuring it all out -— the trends, the language, the music, the styles, the points of view — can get to be a bit overwhelming and is perhaps best left to the tweens and teens who really get it.

The above is prologue to explaining that "Twilight" is the latest pop phenom. And it's no small thing. Here are the numbers: the book has sold 17 million copies; the film, just released, earned $7 million at the much-hyped Thursday midnight screenings across the country; it earned another $30 million on opening day.

If you're looking at these totals and wondering, "Where have I been?" that would be a perfectly appropriate question. The fact is, you live on the other side of the island with the older folks who are, as they used to say, when it comes to such cutting edge stuff, a bit out of it. But know that kids, meaning tween and teen girls, have embraced the "Twilight" saga (there are four books in the series) and the film with a vengeance.

To establish sufficient street cred it's helpful to read the Stephenie Meyer book. But barring that, here, in a nutshell, is what makes the book-film experience so compelling: it's a powerful teenage love story. There's 17-year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. She decides to live with her dad, Charlie (Billy Burke), in Forks, Wash., because her mom has recently married a minor league baseball player and they're going on the road. As it turns out, Forks, unlike Phoenix, has an eternal cloud cover and a misty rain falling most days of the week.

She arrives in Forks, settles in, and on her first day at Forks High School, meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison), her biology lab partner. Pale of skin, remote, brooding, seemingly antagonistic, deeply conflicted, and creepily attractive, Bella is instantly drawn to him. And as she learns, incrementally, Edward feels the same unavoidable need to be with her. Romeo and Juliet? In spades. There is, of course, the subtext view, held by some women, young and old, that if a love interest has a few bad habits, say imperfections, a diamond in the very rough, well, he's subject to some fixing. He can change.

The rub is that Edward can't. And here's where the narrative takes a very different direction. Edward — as every girl in the movie theater knows, for they've all read the book, at least once — is not your typical guy, and this love story is anything but typical. You see, Edward is a vampire. But not the bad kind which sleeps in a coffin and rises at midnight to feast on the blood of humans. He's vampire-lite.

He and his family, who have chosen Forks because of its absence of harsh sunlight, are the good kind. When they feast, its only on animals and never on tempting morsels like Bella. But Edward is severely tested. Yet he is able to resist giving Bella a heartfelt and toothsome hickey because of his deep feelings for her. In fact, their relationship is framed by restraint and unrequited love.

As dangerous as Edward is, he is also safe, for he is terrified that if he were to let himself go, become swept away by his emotions and rampant pheromones, he could hurt Bella. No doubt. He is supernaturally strong, possesses inhuman powers of speed and telepathy, and has been 17-years-old since the turn of the 20th century.

When Bella fully understands who and what Edward is, it's fair to ask if she's not spooked? Even a little? Might she not give some serious thought to dating someone more, like, mainstream, one of the many non-vampire boys who find her interesting? Not even. Cue suspension of disbelief. Instead, OMG, she falls deeply, madly and completely in love with him. Pheromones again fill the screen, sparked by a latent eroticism that carries the film, though it can never be acted on. Abstinence does make the heart grow fonder. Don't LOL.

Is the film well done? Actually it is. The acting is more than credible, and the look and tone and dialogue are perfect. OK, sometimes the interactions between Bella and Edward are a bit stilted, but workable.

When Edward appeared for the first time on the screen, kids in the audience clapped as did some moms (these are Twi-moms who have read the books and relish the idea of seeing the movie with their teens). And when the film ended, with a wide shot of Bella and Edward dancing at Junior Prom, every tween, teen and Mom could all take comfort in knowing that, like Harry Potter, Bella and Edward will be back. Their story isn't even close to being over.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

For the filmmakers of "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," adapting John Boyne's young adult novel for the screen was high risk. Writer and director Mark Herman knew that he would be using the Holocaust as the context for a story about innocence, balancing the point of view of two 8-year-old boys with a malevolence so extreme as to be all but unimaginable.

The film opens with young Bruno (Asa Butterfield) learning that he will leave Berlin and move, with his family — his mother (Vera Farmiga), sister (Amber Beattie) and father (David Thewlis), a Nazi officer — to the countryside in Poland. His father, recently promoted, will assume a position which, Bruno is told, is essential to the welfare of the Fatherland.

Having left all of his mates in Berlin, feeling isolated and a bit lonely in his new home, Bruno begins to explore the surrounding woods. He has seen, from his bedroom window, what he thinks is a farm where people work in the fields.

Curious, irrepressible, he begins to take the measure of his surroundings, viewing all through the prism of childhood: the man who peels their potatoes and works in the garden is simply an aging worker, though his is painfully thin, his blue and white striped trousers frayed; the racist, Jew-hating elderly tutor who comes to instruct Bruno and his sister Gretel; and the harsh, young lieutenant, his father's driver, who treats the old gardener with intense cruelty.

Of course, when the audience first sees the father in his officer grays, the death's head on the collar, the SS emblem on the jacket, it is immediately clear that this man is part of a monstrous war machine. To Bruno, however, the uniform gives his father stature. He is a man who receives the explicit approbation of his peers, and is a man who is always obeyed. As well, for this small boy, he is an object of love and respect and worship.

And so there is a tension between what Bruno perceives and what the audience knows is reality. One day, walking in the woods (he has been told this is off-limits), he discovers a tall, electrified barbed wire fence. And sitting on the other side is a boy, Shmuel (Jack Scanlon). He is dressed in striped pajamas, his head shaved. Bruno assumes that the boy simply lives with his parents on the farm and his life, like his own, is secure and fun. The truth is that neither can fully grasp the evil that surrounds them. How could they? They have no capacity to comprehend the meaning of the smokestacks that belch out a vile, malodorous black smoke, nor the fate that awaits the "farmers" who live on the other side of the wire.

Have the filmmakers reduced the Holocaust to a children's fable, or in some way trivialize it by framing all that we see from the point of view of two children? No. The horror is ever-present. And when contrasted with the innocence of these two small boys, who become friends, it is even darker and more unthinkable. What is truly despicable, defying all understanding, is that Bruno's father is fully aware of his participation in what was termed "The Final Solution." He and his officers are consumed with a soul-shriveling hatred of Jews that so distorts their humanity that it renders them unrecognizable.

Bruno, of course, is oblivious to such realities, insulated by his narrow view of the world, his boyhood fantasies of exploration, and his inability to recognize a human heart so dark that it is beyond anything he could ever know. In some strange, juxtaposing way, Bruno's trusting innocence makes the horrors of Auschwitz, which is the camp just beyond the trees, all the more surreal.

And surreal, along with revulsion, is a not an uncommon adult response to the images of the death camps, knowing that they were created and perpetuated by mothers and fathers who were loved by their children and who loved them in return. How, in the end, do we come to terms with that truth? Or find in this barbarous collective act understanding? We can't.

Share This Story