The "Twilight" series has often been assailed by critics, but Sue Weaver Schopf, associate dean for the Master of Liberal Arts program at Harvard Extension School, isn't one of them. Since she's teaching a course titled "The Vampire in Literature and Film," we asked Schopf why people should see "Breaking Dawn Part 1," which opens tomorrow. She came up with 15 scholarly (and not-so-scholarly) reasons.
1. The vampire legend is thousands of years old and occurs in cultures as ancient as Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece, as well as Asia, Eastern Europe, and Meso-America, leading anthropologists to believe that the story is connected with universal human anxieties about death, disease, decomposition of the body, the spirit world and the afterlife.
2. The fantasy of a union between a mortal and an immortal is a frequent theme in Greek mythology and poetry, and speaks to something deep in the collective unconscious about the wish to have ties to both worlds.
3. The vampire is the only monster that unites what Freud calls the two most powerful instinctual drives in humans: the erotic drive and the death drive.
4. Freud, Jung, Ernest Jones, Krafft-Ebing, Melanie Klein and others have analyzed vampirism as a projection of repressed aggressive impulses left over from the infant oral sadism stage wherein the pleasure of sucking is supplanted by the pleasure of biting.
5. From a Marxist perspective, we have a clear-cut case of class warfare in "Breaking Dawn" with greater and lesser covens uniting against the aristocratic Volturi. We see how political alliances can be forged between natural enemies to serve a common good.
6. The birth of (the unfortunately named) Renesmee may be seen as an allegory of society's discomfort with racial and ethnic hybridity, as well as a statement about the fierceness of the maternal instinct.
7. From a gender perspective, Bella (despite being a perfect example of often-annoying teenage angst and insecurity in the first three books/films) becomes a kind of female hero in "Breaking Dawn" — willing to die to save those she loves and ultimately possessing the inexplicable "gift'' that defeats their enemies and protects her tribe. Meanwhile the male protagonists (vampire and werewolf) are further humanized by their new understanding of the transfiguring power of love. (But that anticipates "Breaking Dawn, Part II.")
8. From the perspective of the literary critic, film critic and the sociologist, it's worth asking why these not-very-well-written books have sold over 118 million copies worldwide, been translated into 50 languages, and led to the sale of nearly $2 billion in movie tickets. Clearly the story taps into something very deep-seated in the psyches of the largely female audience, regardless of age.
9. If you've invested time and money in the four books and three preceding films, you may now be suffering from the "Lord of the Rings"/"Harry Potter" withdrawal syndrome: You've lived with these characters for several years and made a commitment to see them through to the end. If you've not yet made this commitment, you still have time to do so.
10. To male viewers who scoff that these pretty, introspective, vegetarian vampires betray the "real" vampire tradition, here's a news flash: There have always been two versions of the vampire in folklore and fiction — the purely monstrous predator and the beautiful, seductive revenant who desires a human companion. (But you can blame Anne Rice for the self-hating vampire — long before Stephenie Meyer came along she gave us Louis.) More to the point, your girlfriend's enthusiasm for these stories may be telling you something important about what women want.
11. Female viewers already understand that a gorgeous guy who promises to love you forever (and means it), who lets your well-being take precedence over his own barely controllable desires is a rare find. But after three books and three films, they're ready for the period of thoughtful abstinence to be over — and to witness a romantic wedding and honeymoon that includes the loss of Edward's legendary self-control in a sea of feathers and chunks of broken headboard.
12. This could be the birth scene to end all birth scenes: an R-rated episode (for violence, bloodiness and sheer horror) trimmed to PG-13 perfection could be a lesson in skillful film editing to those aspiring to such a career.
13. For two blissful hours, you can forget about unemployment, vanishing 401(k)s, uninspiring political debates and a Congress that understands less about coalition building than the vampires and werewolves in this film.
14. Admiration for the healthy bodies of Taylor Lautner (right) and the wolf pack.
15. The sheer aesthetic pleasure of gazing upon Robert Pattinson's perfectly chiseled features and a cast composed of only beautiful people (despite the increasingly bad wigs to which the latter have been subjected by various on-set hair stylists). We all need a break from the real-life horrors of the world sometimes.
Copyright 2011 The Boston Globe