The Big Picture
- The cultural impact of Twilight is undeniable, and while the series is known for its teen love triangle, the most compelling aspect lies in the unique platonic relationships of the Cullens.
- The Cullens, a group of vampires with diverse backgrounds, have chosen to become a true family, finding genuine love and support for one another, which is evident in their parental dynamics and the way they coexist with each other.
- The Cullen family’s relatable moments, such as sibling jabs, maternal scolding, and bonding through athletic activities, make them a normal family despite the supernatural circumstances that brought them together. Their familial connection runs deep and is seen in their private moments together.
Twilight is having a renaissance. From Hot Topic selling merch to Tessa Violet recreating the iconic baseball scene in her music video for “Games,” it’s like we’ve been transported back to 2008. Whether you unabashedly love it, vehemently hate it, hate to love it, or love to hate it, the cultural impact of the franchise – in particular, the movies – can’t be denied. While the series is best known for its teen love triangle (Team Edward vs. Team Jacob is loyalty that runs deep to this day), the most compelling aspect of the story actually lies in its platonic relationships – namely, in the unique chosen family dynamic of the Cullens.
Who Are the Cullens in The Twilight Saga?
Let’s do a quick recap of the Cullens and their backgrounds. There is, of course, Edward (Robert Pattinson) – a brooding, telepathic vampire who’s been 17 “for a while,” with “a while” meaning since 1918 when he nearly died from Spanish Influenza before Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) turned him into a vampire. His brothers include good-natured Emmett (Kellan Lutz), who was changed after a bear attack in 1935, and stoic Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), a Civil War-era soldier who was turned by the power-hungry Maria to fight in her army. As far as Edward’s sisters are concerned, there’s the beautiful Rosalie (Nikki Reed), who was turned in 1933 after being brutally assaulted by her fiancé, and cheerful Alice (Ashley Greene), who was locked away in an asylum after experiencing visions before being changed in 1920.
And then there are Edward’s adoptive parents: the ethical doctor Carlisle, who became a vampire after being attacked by one in 1640 London, and kind, gentle Esme (Elizabeth Reaser), who attempted suicide as the result of suffering abuse from her husband as well as the loss of her baby and was subsequently turned in 1921. That is a vastly different group of people who, under any normal circumstances, never even would have met. And yet, not only do they manage to coexist with each other, but they eventually choose to become a true family, finding genuine love and support for one another.
This is especially true in the parental dynamics between Carlisle and Esme and their adoptive children. Despite their kids graduating enough times for all the caps to fill a giant display on the wall, their proud expressions at the ceremony in Eclipse are genuine, and they even throw a party for the entire class. The same goes for the lavish wedding they put on for Edward and Bella (Kristen Stewart) in Breaking Dawn – and their palpable joy during it.
But it doesn’t end there. After all, between Carlisle getting a doctor’s salary for centuries and the fact that Alice could win the lottery every day of the week if she wanted, it’s not like they’re struggling for money. A couple of nice parties isn’t exactly a huge financial sacrifice. Plus, they successfully pretend not to be vampires all the time, so from these examples alone, it could be argued the bond is merely a calculated ruse of convenience to keep up appearances in public. It’s the moments when we see the family together in private – especially when things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows (or lightning and thunderstorms, I guess, would be the more appropriate metaphor in this case) – that make it clear their familial connection runs deeper.
Why Twilight’s Cullen Family Feels So Familiar
One of the most striking familial moments is during the first film when Bella visits Edward’s house and properly meets his family for the first time. Emmett can be seen happily cooking with Carlisle and Esme, while Rosalie sulks about having to host her brother’s new girlfriend. When Bella informs them she’s already eaten, an irritated Rosalie breaks the salad dish she’s holding. Annoyed, Edward tells Bella to ignore Rosalie like he does, and a disappointed Esme orders Rosalie to clean up the mess. In classic little sister fashion, Alice also overeagerly notes how good Bella smells and assures her they’ll be great friends.
The scene ends with Edward quickly ushering Bella out of the room and taking her on a tour of the rest of the house to get away from his family – not because he’s afraid they’re going to hurt her but because they’re embarrassing. From sibling jabs to maternal scolding to obnoxious little sisters, it’s a scene that feels painfully relatable, which reaffirms that this family is, at its core, about as normal as you can get despite the decidedly unnatural circumstances that brought them together.
It’s a beautiful thing for Bella to have this normalcy, as, in a way, her own home life is even more chaotic and untraditional at times despite being full of humans. Though Bella’s mother, Renée (Sarah Clarke), and father, Charlie (Billy Burke), clearly love her, she is often left to fend for herself or even step up and take care of them. Renée is eclectic and spontaneous, and we get the feeling she provided little structure or stability for her daughter. In fact, Bella puts her mother’s feelings above her own when moving to Forks so Renée can follow her new husband around the country playing baseball. It’s safe to assume Bella is the more responsible party in that dynamic. When Bella moves in with Charlie, she’s still pretty independent, even stating that one of the best things about him is he “doesn’t hover.” The book explicitly states that Bella is the one who does the cooking for herself and Charlie and is used to it after living with Renée. Seeing Carlisle and Esme immediately go out of their way to selflessly cook a meal for Bella and warmly greet her stands in stark contrast to Bella’s more distant relationship with her own parents, and the juxtaposition of Bella caring for her parents while being cared for by Edward’s has fascinating implications.
We get several more of these dinner-like moments throughout the series. There is, of course, the aforementioned baseball game, filled with sibling rivalry, cheating accusations, and Esme trying to keep it all under control by serving as the umpire. The family obviously has a thing about bonding with athletics, as the training scene in Eclipse as they’re getting ready to fight the army of newborn vampires is equally crackling with fun, friendly competition. One especially great match-up is Edward versus Carlisle. Though Edward seemingly emerges as the winner of their fight, once he gets cocky and turns his back, Carlisle leaps up and knocks him to the ground, his wisdom ultimately helping him emerge victorious.
The connection between the father-son duo is strong and can be seen throughout the series, as Edward was the first person to join Carlisle’s coven – even before Esme. A few years after being turned, Edward displayed some trademark teen rebellion by leaving the family for a few years, trading in his vegetarian lifestyle to instead exclusively prey on criminals. However, after a while, his guilt got to be too much, and he returned home to Carlisle and Esme once again. It’s clear Edward looks at Carlisle like a true mentor and father figure, always learning from and afraid of disappointing him. Though Edward strayed, he chose to come back and live by Carlisle’s rules, craving his fatherly guidance.
While Carlisle and Esme are at the head of the family, they make important decisions together, with each voice being heard and respected. At Bella’s encouragement, they all take a vote in New Moon to decide whether she should be turned, and they all debate what should be done about her pregnancy in Breaking Dawn. It’s fascinating to see how their backgrounds affect each of their opinions on these two pivotal matters. Esme, Alice, and Emmett vote for Bella to be turned, with Alice considering her a sister and Esme telling her she’s already “part of the family.” Carlisle’s deep love for Edward shines through, too – he votes for Bella to be turned because he knows Edward will not live without her, and Carlisle refuses to lose his son.
Rosalie mourns the fact she can no longer have biological children – something that informs her opinions on both subjects. She doesn’t want to allow Bella to be changed, as vampirism isn’t a life she would have chosen for herself, yet she advocates for Bella to continue carrying her baby, as she would give anything to be able to get pregnant. Tensions run high during each of these scenes as opinions clash. Edward feels betrayed by Carlisle when he votes to turn Bella. Alice and Rosalie yell at each other over Bella’s pregnancy, as Alice wants to terminate it and save Bella’s life. When Jacob (Taylor Lautner) sides with Alice, Rosalie snaps that it’s none of his business before calling him a dog, resulting in Esme chastizing her for her rudeness.
Twilight Could Have Given Us So Much More From the Cullen Family
What family hasn’t had its fair share of conflicts and disagreements? It’s, again, highly relatable. But the reasoning behind said arguments – the combination of supernatural elements, their unique individual pasts, and their century-long histories with each other – takes it to the next level, adding riveting layers to every debate. The little snippets we get of the Cullen family – both the frustrations and the joys – are delightful and say so much. However, it’s hard not to mourn what could have been had we gotten to see everything fleshed out even more deeply. It’s impossible not to notice the parallels between Esme and Rosalie’s stories, with them being survivors of abuse. Think of how powerful seeing them speak on this and helping each other heal could have been. A desire for motherhood is at the core of both of their stories as well. Wouldn’t it have been beautiful for Esme to show Rosalie she still can be a mother, albeit in an untraditional way, as she did with her adoptive children?
Jasper no doubt has a long list of regrets. Seeing him talk this out with Carlisle or Edward – who have both notably struggled to come to terms with their pasts – could have been touching (and could have helped the story address the problematic element of him being a Confederate soldier). On the lighter side, Emmett and Alice are both fun-loving – we deserved to see them team up to play some pranks and wreak some havoc.
While Bella and Edward’s romance is what Twilight is best known for, the Cullen family is by far the most inventive and interesting part of the story. While the scenes we get make a lasting impression, it’s a pity we don’t get more of them, as there are so many rich characters with the possibility for even richer interactions. But since it seems like everything is getting rebooted or revived nowadays, who knows? Maybe someday we’ll see the Cullen family take center stage so it can live up to its fascinating potential.