‘Breaking Dawn’s Pregnancy Horror Show

Because I have a tendency to make foolish decisions while in New York, I let a group of my friends talk me into seeing Breaking Dawn. As will surprise no one, even aesthetic and feminist objections aside, it’s not a good movie: the shots are endless and empty without meaningful dialogue to fill them, the action sequences are incomprehensible and lack even the slightest tension, and for all the vampire wealth we’re supposed to be lavished with, the sets often look ugly and cheap. There are bits and pieces that suggest the missed opportunities had someone had the fortitude to do some real surgery on the novel: a series of very funny wedding toasts, some nonsense with lingere, a nicely nervous loss-of-virginity prep. And it tip-toes up to something very interesting and scary about pregnancy before walking away.

In the movie, as in the book, Bella finds herself unexpectedly and terrifyingly pregnant with a rapidly-growing fetus that does her great harm — starving her, kicking her bruised, breaking her ribs and ultimately her spine. I don’t agree with everything in this essay, but I agree it’s a good, scary metaphorization of the huge things one’s body goes through when one gets pregnant. And in the movie, it’s horrifying. Bella becomes a living corpse, and not one that sparkles in the sunlight. She’s terrifyingly emaciated. She’s bruised. Her hair is dirty. When her labor begins and her baby breaks her spine, it’s one of the scariest things I’ve seen on screen all year, and I’m not being facetious — it’s a body doing something it’s not meant to, and it’s sickening. The c-section via Edward’s teeth is shot such that it’s a deeply uncomfortable riff on oral sex. It all could have been more lurid, but it’s the one part of the movie where writer Melissa Rosenberg (no relation) and director Bill Condon really seemed to commit.

Of course they, and the novel, back away from the horror. Bella gives birth to an angel who entrances her best friend, rather than to a monstrosity. She survives her horrific birth and is transformed into a being more beautiful than she ever was as a human. It’s an inverse of Rosemary’s Baby, promising that no matter what you endure, everything will be fine, no need to worry about your health, or any anxieties you might have about motherhood. I still think that a real aversion to having children, or even an antipathy to them in general, is one of the few views that remains fairly taboo in popular culture, where motherhood rules over almost any other alternate priority. Breaking Dawn may make a bunch of its vampires straw pro-choices, treating them as if they’re dumb and insensitive for valuing a sister-in-law they love over a child they don’t know. But it’s not really willing to have an honest debate about what motherhood means after you give birth.