Reel Therapy

Unraveling the mind through film

Twilight's Eclipse: When Cupid’s Arrow Shoots Poison

When love goes awry the consequences can be fierce

With the third installment of the Twilight Saga hitting the box office (and a stampede of adolescent girls following on its heels), there is much to talk about.

a. There is the theme of runaway emotions clouding the rational brain, as "Eclipse" demonstrates how love can not only make us blind, but stupid as well.
b. There is the popular culture phenomenon known as Team Edward versus Team Jacob that has reached fever pitch.
c. There is Edward's continued superhuman modeling of a psychological strength known as self-regulation.

Consequently, I'm thinking at least two blog entries. Stay turned for the latter points in Part II and, for now, back to the motif of runaway emotions...

Emotions, particularly the basic ones like anger, fear, desire and hate, flow from our reptilian brain. Meaning, when an emotion hits us and we start to feel the physiological aftershocks - a racing heart, shallow, rapid breathing and wildly churning sweat glands - our more advanced cranial regions are being overridden by the ancestor part of brain that helped us to do things like instinctively run from the pouncing tiger way back when.

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Love can be problematic because it comes as a complicated emotional package that includes multiple, concurrent, sometimes conflicting emotions. For example, you obviously feel intense desire for the love of your life, but, at the same time, you may also feel fear over potentially losing your love, anger at how vulnerable pure love makes you, perhaps even hatred at your love for attaining such seemingly significant control over your internal life...and on and on.

This emotional chain of love (be impressed by the double meaning) can blind you from the obvious and render you stupid when processing basic facts. Cognitive-interference is not a term often associated with love but, as the Twilight Sage proves, it probably should be.

In "Twilight" Bella was the victim of such cognitive-interference, as she alienated her friends and family during her hot pursuit of Edward's affections. In "New Moon" cupid's arrow of stupidity hit Edward dead-center in his frontal cortex, as he looked outright silly high-tailing it to Italy in the hopes that his absence would prove protective. Instead, Bella freaked out and Victoria (the inexplicably effective villain of the Saga) waltzed right in to Forks to predictably wreak havoc. In "Eclipse" it's Jacob's turn to share in the mental dysfunction.

Early on we can see that Jacob's love for Bella has blocked his perspective of reality (Bella has chosen Edward) and replaced it with an elaborate distortion fed by his own desperate hopes and mind-reading tendencies. He insists that Bella loves him. Now we all know that Bella does love him...as a friend, but he insists that the love is romantic and superior to that of her love for Edward. This insistence escalates in ways that are intense and, more often than not, embarrassing.

It starts innocently enough with Jacob making semi-serious conversational claims that Bella knows he is the better, more deserving choice. Jacob's mind has played twister with these ideas to such an extent that he has convinced himself to wait patiently her Bella's resistant subconscious to catch up with and accept the simple facts of the situation. In the meantime he'll do what he can to facilitate the process. When Edward drops Bella off at the treaty line (remember that werewolf v. vampire pact), Jacob greets her with a hug and a "Hey, Beautiful," like the boyfriend that he isn't, but thinks he will soon be. Bella laughs uncomfortably like that girl at a frat party who is starting to realize that the drunken guy she's been flirting with for the last hour is taking things a little too seriously.

Later, during a platonic walk on the beach, Jacob insists some more. He just knows... deep down where the things we really want to be true are, quite simply, that...that Bella loves him. So, despite the absence of any moment-to-moment social signals, or any historically supportive evidence of any kind, Jacob goes in for the kill and kisses Bella with the passion and righteousness of Romeo kissing Juliet. For Bella, she's back at the frat party, and the cute guy she'd been flirting with has turned into a messy drunk who won't stop petting her. She pulls out the equivalent of a rape whistle, a mean right hook, and breaks her hand on Jacob's face.

His insistence continues. When he learns that Bella set a date for Edward to "convert" her, he throws a temper tantrum and says some nasty things he should not have said. When he learns that Bella has agreed to marry Edward, Jacob practically convulses in pain and throws another fit of immature rage before racing wildly into battle. He's escalated from sloppy drunk guy to displaced anger, stalker guy.

And still...his insistence continues...After the epic battle with Victoria's army, as Jacob's broken body is lying in recovery he interprets Bella's guilt-stricken visit as one last chance to profess his love. As unbearable pain penetrates his body all Jacob can talk about is his willingness to break his own rules if Bella were to one day reciprocate his love.

Now, we can't fault him for trying. He stated his case to Bella with clarity and force. But love blinded and stupefied Jacob with regard to one crucial fact. The case for Bella's heart had been closed long ago. Way back in "New Moon" if not the first few moments of "Twilight," Bella had arrived at an inner truth that Edward was "the one." And from that moment forward she expressed this truth with conviction and consistency, refraining from sending even a single signal of false hope Jacob's way. Recall that even at her most vulnerable - abandoned by Edward in "New Moon" with Jacob there to enthusiastically pick up the pieces - Bella was drawing clear boundaries and Jacob was trying to sidestep them.

Looking back on this narrative arc, a story within a story emerges in which Jacob tried and failed in a Charlie Brown-like manner. During each "Jacob attempt," Bella responded with a mantra that we have now heard for three movies: "Edward is my soul mate and you're my best friend. So just calm it down Casanova..." And while her response reflected the actions of an individual who knew exactly what she wanted, Jacob's disorganized and desperate flailing resembled an individual grasping at straws.

Jacob loves Bella. In fact, based on what his eyes tell us during the scene in which he explains werewolf imprinting to Bella, he feels feelings for her that are more intense then mere human love. But in situations where love goes unrequited, cupid's arrow can shoot poison with the power to transform a strong and capable best friend into a cartoon caricature of naïveté and ineptitude. Love may know no bounds in its tendency to elate but the same holds true for its ability to blind and stupefy. Sadly, in the end, while Bella and Edward chastely kiss in a field of flowers, the emotionally inflamed Jacob lays in bed twisting and turning with the agony not of broken bones, but of a broken heart.

 

Jeremy Clyman, Psy.D., attained his doctorate in clinical psychology at Yeshiva University.

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