I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
There’s a moment, roughly an hour into the movie Twilight, when Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is lying on her bed. We hear her thoughts in a voice-over: “About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire.” Bella sits up, runs a hand through her hair. “Second, there was a part of him, and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be” — a horn honks — “that thirsted for my blood.” She stands up, goes to her bedroom window. Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) is leaning against his car on the street below, waiting for her. “And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.” There’s a cut, and now we’re looking at Bella from outside the window. A half smile on her face, an intake of breath; she shakes her head, as if to chase a thought away. And then we understand. Oh, you don’t love him. You want to bang him.
For a movie based on a series of famously sex-negative books, Twilight —specifically Bella Swan, Twilight’s female lead — is, like, really horny. During her first, halting conversation with Edward, the camera lingers on her face as she opens her mouth, fumbling for words, her tongue pressing insistently against her teeth. At a restaurant, Edward confesses that he doesn’t have the strength to stay away from her; Bella’s eyelids flutter, her lips part. “Then don’t,” she breathes. Edward’s the vampire, but Pattinson plays him pained, thin-lipped, grim. Kristen Stewart’s Bella is the one who looks feral, hungry.
And then there’s the kiss, the ovary-punch from which I’ve spent the last decade recovering. The set up is creepy as hell. It’s nighttime. Edward appears in Bella’s bedroom and reveals he likes to sneak in through her window at night and watch her sleep. For months he’s been doing this! His skin is pale and cold; his hair is gelled and lightly frosted. And then he tells her he wants to try “one thing.”
It takes more than 20 seconds for their mouths to meet. That’s part of it: how director Catherine Hardwicke understands the eros of anticipation, the exquisite torture of delay — which is, after all, the basis of both narrative pleasure and the success of the Twilight books. Girls across the world tore through thousands of pages, desperate to get the bit where Bella bones. Another part: how quickly Bella ignores Edward’s urgent “don’t move,” her torso rising to meet his, her hand pulling his hair. For a moment, Edward gives in. He throws her down on the bed. Bella, we realize, isn’t wearing pants. And then, just as quickly, Edward is vaulting himself back against the wall and yelling “Stop it!” (At Bella, I think? Look, the sexual politics of the source material are abominable. Hardwicke’s doing what she can.)
I saw Twilight in theaters, home on winter break during my junior year of college. I went with a friend from high school and we treated the experience as a joke, even as we paid actual money for tickets in exchange for the privilege of spending two actual hours of our lives watching Robert Pattinson sparkle. But at 21, I wasn’t too old for Twilight and I wasn’t — no matter what I thought going in — too good for it. At 21, I was barely removed from that intoxicating mix of fear and lust and hormones that is the province of high school. I was young enough to want to want that badly again.
At 21, the appeal of the Twilight kiss was heightened by the fact that every romantic relationship I’d been in had failed. In retrospect, that first moment of dizzy falling together looked like a peak: a relationship was all downhill from there. A decade later, familiar with the more durable pleasures of partnership — and also, let’s be honest, better at boning — that kiss should look tamer to me. But it doesn’t. It continues to neatly capture, on the one hand, the terror of sex, how risky it is, and, on the other, how the frisson of that risk is part of its reward. I’m an anxious person, wary of physical contact; in the presence of a person I’m attracted to, my first instinct is to tuck myself into a ball and roll quietly away. Sometimes I find myself marveling at the fact that I’ve managed not just one but a series of first kisses. And then I think of Twilight, and I remember: oh, right, from time to time my body screams put your mouth on his mouth loud enough to drown out the sound of my mind.
The rest of the Twilight movies are by-the-numbers cash-grabs. (The fact that I’ve only seen one-and-a-half of the remaining four does not make me any less confident in my judgment.) But Hardwicke — who only directed the first film in the series; she and the studio parted ways after she was labeled “difficult” and “irrational” — understands what the Twilight books are actually about. They’re not about vampires or werewolves or fate or true love. They’re about Isabella Swan, a teenage girl who really wants to bang her boyfriend. The fact that Stephenie Meyer, Mormon author of the original series, won’t let her (until she gets married, gross) doesn’t dishonor Bella’s noble attempts. To her, and to all the other teens heroically attempting to get it on with their chosen partners, this wizened 31-year-old crone raises her glass.