This weekend, the first half of Twilight's final chapter, Breaking Dawn, hits theaters. We'll finally get to see Stephenie Meyer's most controversial scenes, as reimagined by acclaimed director Bill Condon. How on Earth does the director of Gods and Monsters and Kinsey tackle the famous "imprinting" scene?
We were lucky enough to speak with Condon on the phone, and we asked him about horror movies, and whether Bella is a feminist role model. Here's what he told us...
io9: There's a lot of horror that deals with alienation, but not a lot of horror that deals with romance as its main subject - what's it like mashing up horror and romance?
BC: It's so interesting. Another way of saying that, is that it's female horror, you know? [Twilight] concerns itself with important markers in a woman's life, and the woman is the central character. It's through her point of view that we experience things. It gets more inside the ideas, like the horror of what's growing inside you. That's also connected to your lover growing inside you. The horror of being invaded, along with your desire to be invaded. You know, all those issues sort of swirl around this film franchise.
So the things that you fear most are the things you want most?
Right. And the danger of wanting something too badly, but also the desire to overcome that.
So I feel like a lot of your other movies have been about people fetishizing stories. Like the Frankenstein story in Gods and Monsters, or the way in which Kinsey collects stories. And with Breaking Dawn, there are so many aspects of the story that the fans fixate on. What's it like to be the one creating stories for other people to fetishize? To be the primary source instead of commenting on a primary source?
Yeah, but it's weird — because [this movie] isn't the primary source, in a way, because it's building on the other movies. I feel the movie does fetishize the characters, in a way. It's funny, it's a word I used a lot when I came to the wedding dress.
Because that's something where it has to be exactly right.
It has to be right, and you have to make it [live up to people's expectations]. The number of shots it takes to reveal it is pretty extreme, you know. I know what you mean — but it's interesting, there's a clip in Breaking Dawn from Bride of Frankenstein, which is obviously a favorite movie of mine.
But in a way, this movie has the same relationship to the original [Twilight films as Bride of Frankenstein has to Frankenstein.] There's a sense in which things become more self aware — but not with a wink, I think. Just more because the relationship with the audience is so interactive, I think it's sort of imposible not to take into [consideration] and almost kind of layer into the storytelling the kind of relationship we people towards these characters. There's a lot of exepctations about things like the wedding, and certainly the first time they make love, that we sort of play with. You know, like "Is that all we're getting on their wedding night?" "No, because the main portion is going to come a little later, when she remembers the wedding night." Things like that.
And we've written about the fact that Melissa Rosenberg brings a layer of knowingness to the screenplays that isn't there in quite the same way in the books.
I think that's true, yeah, and I also think there's just a completely different kind of political perspective, and just a sense of the world. I do think she's such a major collaborator, as well as Kristen Stewart. There's a lot of [Stewart] in this movie version of the character, that somehow exists between the Bella in the novels and what Kristen Stewart brought to it.
Is Breaking Dawn a feminist narrative? Is Bella a role model for women?
I don't know about "role model." But I do think she's an incredibly strong female character, who has a sense of what she wants, and what's right, and goes after it. I find her extremely heroic in this movie, because she is thinking about sacrificing any kind of sense of safety in the service of something that she thinks of as more important than herself. But that's just the physical thing she goes through. And then in the second part of it, when she turns into a fierce kind of warrior vampire goddess. It's an extraordinary kind of journey for this character who started out in such an ordinary way.
One thing I asked you about briefly at Comic Con was the idea that there's a theme of alienation and outcasts that runs through your work generally. Can you expand on how Breaking Dawn fits into that?
Yes, definitely. It does feel like that... And I think that's true of [this movie]. You don't want to stress the point too hard, [but] vampires do live outside the social code. They try to fit in, but they can't, in a way — and they keep coming up against the difficulty of that. But to me, it is Bella, the person who really feels out of step with the world, and that's what draws her out of the real life into a kind of fantasy life, into a dream life. And that kind of getting caught up in some dream, that seems to me to be a running thread. Something that takes out out of a reality that might be too disturbing to have to face.
And there's definitely a theme in Twilight of creating an alternative family of choice, and monsters joining together.
Yeah, and it's interesting — because that is completely the story across these two movies. Obviously, Bella joins this family that has been completely invented [already]. But even Jacob, the one who is most firmly rooted in that sense of traditional culture, has to break away from that and join this family that is a kind of incredible collection by the end, of vampires and humans, and half vampire-human baby, and wolves. It's very satisfying when it reaches a conclusion, I think.
Speaking of Jacob, can we talk about the imprinting scene, where he imprints on Bella's baby? That seems like a weird thing to have to externalize. Did you struggle with how to make that something a mainstream audience can understand?
Absolutely. It is so... it is absolutely one of the most controversial ideas in the book. There is a very reductive take on this as just "falling in love with the baby," which it isn't. I have to say, we just saw it for the first time with the audience, of four thousand people. There was... Oh my god, it was the biggest thrill for me was that moment, where people embraced it entirely. There was just a complete warmth that was felt. I think it was about visualizing in a way, a spiritual connection to the soul of that other person. So it's not a baby, it's the entire expanse of what her life is, that hits him in an instant. And it's such a powerful, magical feeling that is impossible to resist.
So finally, you're returning to directing straight horror after a long absence. What did you learn from directing Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh that you were able to apply on Breaking Dawn?
I think there's so many things [that I learned from Candyman]. This is something that was obviously clear from the other movies in [the Twilight] franchise, that the sense of place is so important. We are in this very specific Pacific Northwest town, and we also kind of go to exotic locations [in Breaking Dawn] as well. That was something that was fun to play with, certainly, in Candyman. We sort of I think push it further into the realm of pure horror than it's been before, which kind of came out of that experience [with Candyman].
Including body horror?
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 comes out on Friday.