Twilight and Amortality

Justine Toh on how Twilight apes the amortal hopes and dreams of our culture.

The penultimate Twilight movie Breaking Dawn Part I has just been released in Australia, featuring the tagline “the beginning of the end.”

To which many will say, “Promise?”

The series has sucked the life out of us long enough. To date, three Twilight movies based on Stephanie Meyer’s hugely successful novels have indulged Bella and Edward’s self-absorbed teenage love affair (in case you’ve been spared: she’s a human, he’s a vampire). The series has also recounted in excruciating detail the torrid interspecies love triangle between Bella and Edward and hot-blooded werewolf Jacob. And it has reminded us constantly that vampires and werewolves are sworn enemies and never the twain shall agree on who gets to date Bella.

The Twilight saga eventually concludes but talk of ends is somewhat strange when it comes to Meyer’s novels because they proceed from the assumption that life (just like her story, it felt at times) need not end but go on and on and on. And why shouldn’t it, when you’re a rich, powerful, vigorous creature of the night blessed with eternal life?

Twilight, however, doesn’t just depict these pleasures of the life immortal—but the life amortal as well.

The phenomenon of amortality describes the condition where people act the same all the way throughout their lives: never really growing up or, conversely, never really getting old.

‘Amortals’, as writer Catherine Mayer dubs them, seek to arrive at the best time of their life and then linger there indefinitely, assisted by the usual suspects—vitamins, botox, plastic surgery, gym workouts, steroids, and the king of them all: Viagra.

None of these appear in Meyer’s universe because her vampires don’t need them. Their immortal lives are the amortal dream. Meyer’s glitterati—no kidding, her vampires actually sparkle like diamonds in the sun—haven’t needed to pop pills or ab crunch their way to glory because vitality and potency are perks of (un)life for the undead. That’s the case even for ‘vegetarian’ vampires like Edward Cullen and his family, who abstain from feasting on human blood.

And when Bella joins their ranks as she will by the end of Breaking Dawn, she too will be blessed with an immortal life never to be wearied by age, infirmity or, best yet, gravity. She’ll be pretty pasty, but it’s a small price to pay to be forever young.

Bella won’t only have her looks but undying romantic love, inexhaustible riches, and an unquenchable sexual passion for her lover Edward. Such is Twilight’s ‘happy ending’, which makes Meyer’s story somewhat of an unlikely entry into the vampire canon.

In fact, Meyer has done something of an extreme makeover on the vampire story, transforming it from a tragic tale where the undead are equally tormented and gratified by their fate to the wet dream of a youth-obsessed, image-conscious, sex-mad and consumption-crazed culture.

It’s probably why, in an article musing on the vogueishness of the vamp in recent years, author John Birmingham admits that for all the pitfalls of, you know, losing your soul upon becoming a vampire, “it would also be, well, kinda cool.” He observes that vampires “seem to gain so much and give up only their immortal souls, and in a secular, materialist world that hardly seems to be any kind of loss at all.”

So true. In fact, Twilight’s vampires are perfectly pitched at our post-Christian age and its general unconcern with God. They just get on with their un(lives), not really fussed about what happens after the afterlife. Under her watch, Meyer’s bloodsuckers rarely relish or rue their official status as God’s accursed. Apparently life’s too short for regrets, even when it’s not.

Accordingly, Meyer’s junked the religious fixtures of the vampire myth. Her vampires won’t snarl when crucifixes are brandished and holy water flung at them. They’re more likely to smile apologetically, awkwardly, and then go and dry off. Like good middle-class people, they don’t want you to feel bad. In Twilight, the symbols of Christianity, just like the vegetarian vampires they’re supposed to repel, no longer have any real bite.

Twilight, then, marks a watershed moment: the point where we did away with God and made gods of our undying selves. It’s an amortal achievement.

Just how has this state of affairs come about? Twilight doesn’t provide any hard answers but the staggering wealth of the Cullen clan provides a clue.

We’re told that Alice Cullen’s ability to predict the future has amassed for the family enough riches to buy an island or two off the coast of South America. So loaded are they that the Cullens could be dripping in diamonds everyday (and on top of their sparkly skin, that’s a lot of bling). There’s a neatness to the family’s fortune: their unlimited credit cards match their limitless lives.

Few are as rich as the Cullens, but the general affluence of the West—relative to everyone else in the world anyway—gives us a sense of control over our individual fates, as well as the means to do so. When we’re no longer as buff as we once were (if ever), whole industries await to get us back to trim and terrific—all for a price, of course.

And as religion has declined, so has its story that frames our lives and gives us something to yearn for beyond the heaven our riches allow us to create for ourselves on earth.

That combination of money and power fires our amortal ambitions, and often proves strong enough to make us give God the brush-off, especially when life within our Western bubble is, on the whole, pretty good.

Twilight is often dismissed as teenage fantasy—and with good reason at times, given Bella and Edward’s overwhelming, four-book-long infatuation, the way Jacob oscillates between sulking and sulking while shirtless.

But its cast of undying beautiful people strangely ape the amortal hopes and dreams of our culture. And even though the sun will eventually set on Twilight (even if the last book is called Breaking Dawn), the heart of the saga is likely to endure.

Why? Because it’s not just the fans—the twihards and their twums (the mums who snack on Twilight)—who’ve given themselves over to its dreams of immortality, but many in the richest parts of the world whose thirst for more life (amortality) is as insatiable as that of any vampire.

You might even call us ‘tWesterners’.

Justine Toh is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity and an Honorary Associate of the Department of Media, Music, and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University.

This article originally appeared at The Drum.