Let the Right One In

January 11, 2009 at 2:30 pm (Moving Pictures)

Literally just got back from watching Let the Right One In. My rec in two words: watch it.

I can’t really speak for the cinematography except in a really general, vague kind of way; because I’m so much about writing, the narrative and the story and how it’s told is what I tend to focus on. If you fear it’s like Twilight, well, I’m almost 100% sure it isn’t, despite never having read the books or seen the movie. Twilight (and a lot of other vampire media) tend to romanticize the myth, focus on the loneliness of immortality and the pain of seeing all you love die, the angst of having to kill to live. You know what I mean; from what I know of Twilight that’s more or less the deal.

That’s not what Let the Right One In does. The vampire mythos it uses isn’t anything really new, but it’s presented in a really–neutral kind of way, is the best way to put it. It’s free of any outside judgement, the film’s perspective doesn’t focus on any one part of being a vampire but rather presents all of it: relatively-good and bad. The need for blood because you have no choice, the inability to settle and connect because of having to feed, the danger and longing for connection and relationships, the way things between vampires and humans can’t work, the loneliness of being a predator among prey and watching people you love grow old and die. It’s not romanticized. It’s just laid out there in a very…matter-of-fact way and I really like it. There’s no value judgement made.

That’s a really odd statement because the film almost negates Eli’s assertion that he only kills because he must. He accidentally makes another vampire, who–upon realizing what she has become–consciously chooses to orchestrate her own death. So there is another option, which is to simply die. Eli made the choice to live and hence the choice to kill; he chose the loneliness and the pain and the hunger and everything. Virginia…didn’t. What is the difference here? Perhaps it is the fact that Virginia’s an adult and Eli was turned at twelve and has been twelve all his life. The implication is that only youth would want to be a vampire, I guess, the desire to be a vampire, the romanticizing of vampires, all of those are prespectives of youth–if you were an adult, if you’d lived through death and pain and loss and grief and knew what it did, you were an adult who had had to make the hard choices in life–you would not choose to be a vampire. You would not choose your immortality over the lives of others.

I am reminded of a quote from the webcomic Grayling. Paraphrased: Murder’s not wrong just because you kill someone; it’s wrong because you can’t know how many people will be affected by this single action.

That perhaps is the one message Let the Right One In gives about vampirism. You would not choose if you had lived a full life and knew what your actions could do to others. Okay, so maybe a value judgement was made–but not in the way you typically see them made about vampires. It’s presented as an awkward, lonely existence, I think. It’s not a life you’d want unless you couldn’t see the consequences and ramifications of your decisions (which is, perhaps, a quality associated with youth). To be a vampire is to survive, not to live. It’s not a coincidence that the movie is set during the winter, where everything is dead and desperately holding down the fort in hope for spring to arrive.

This is, upon reflection, a rather idealistic notion of humanity, that to be an adult is to be wise enough to realize what being a vampire would entail, and to judge that your continued existence is not worth the lives you would take the grief of your victimes’ untold loved ones. Most vampire stories like to present humanity as inherently selfish, wanting what they can’t have and hanging on to existence when they get forced into vampirehood anyway. Let the Right One In is…really refreshing, in that way.

(Interjection: Just found out that American publishers had the title cut down to Let Me In. WTF, American publishers. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is longer than Let the Right One In, which has the benefit of being both poetic and relevant to the novel’s subject matter while making commentary on it SO WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU CUT IT DOWN you make it too personal I don’t think this story is supposed to be a microcosm of Eli and Oskar, it’s supposed to be like–a wider tale about vampires and humans and innocence and youth and adulthood period. FAIL. SUPER FAIL.)

Um. What else. Little snippets, commentary on details I noticed and liked–but, hmm, okay, one last thing.

I will never look at vampires the same again.

1. The Rubik’s cube! I really liked it as symbolic of their friendship as it starts out. Oskar offers it to her with a single face, all white. White has connotation of purity and innocence. At this point he’s bullied and wants to lash out but hasn’t actually committed any violence; his Rubik’s cube offer is representative of his untained state.

Eli takes the cube and plays with it, toying with the idea of a friendship. He never changes the white face, he doesn’t touch it–he doesn’t want to taint Oskar’s innocence and purity. He ultimately rejects the idea of a relationships, tries to hand the cube back–but Oskar won’t take it, makes Eli accept his friendship and continued association. Eli has no choice.

But then Eli gives back the cube, completed: he’s thought the idea of a friendship over, and he’s accepted. Accepted Oskar’s offer, and reciprocated. I suppose the use of a Rubik’s cube as a metaphor for friendship is also significant in that it’s a puzzle to them both–Oskar is bullied and alone much of the time, Eli is by his nature as a vampire generally forced into complete solitude.

2. Repeat of the scene where Oskar touches the window while undressed for bed! First at the very beginning, when he’s at his most alone–and then after Eli leaves (ostensibly for good), and he’s lost his friend and uh, girlfriend. Um. The shots are so eerily familiar I almost wonder whether the director just reused footage. It was that creepy.

3. Surprisingly the ending is the most monstrous part of Eli’s behavior. Prior to that you can make the argument that Eli is doing what he needs to survive, and thus his feeding is presented without any sugar-coating or any abstractness or “fade-to-black.” It’s utterly clear what he’s doing.

But at the end, his killing is almost gratuitous. He didn’t need to kill those boys to save Oskar. He could have scared them off, he could have just knocked them out. He slaughtered three of them, and only one of them was actually harming Oskar, though the other two were implicit in the plot. The thing is, this is when Eli is truly monstrous: using his advantages over humans intentionally and, well, wastefully. And it is that moment where we discreetly cut away from his violence. This is significant!

4. The fact that the two protagonists are children adds a veneer of innocent-first-love to the storyline that is completely, utterly creepy because of how at odds it is with the desperate, unhappy, violent story of vampirism and vampire/human. It adds an element of horror that would be completely missing with adult, or even teenage protagonists. Their innocence–and how that innocence and obliviousness allows them to accept and perpetrate violence–is terrible. The juxtaposition of the adult themes and child protagonists is utterly, utterly, creepy. Somehow it–reveals those themes even more, makes them more overt and therefore more terrifying and the juxtaposition, as I said, just adds more oomph. Narratively a really good decision, I think.

(Interjection the Second: American remake? WHAAAAAT? Well, apparently it’s more like a re-adaptation rather than a re-make of the Swedish film, but. I’m almost afraid. It’s going to be directed by Matt Reeves. Did he make Cloverfield? I thought I’ve seen that mentioned, though since I haven’t seen Cloverfield it’s…kind of irrelevant to my opinion. We’ll see.)

5. Please don’t let Oskar become the next old dude. I mean, he’s kind of creepy and all, but I don’t want him to become Hakan, who was just as lonely and isolated as Eli. :(

6. Wanna read the book. Like, now.


7. Vampirism is depicted as an accident, it’s not intentional and it can’t be premeditated (as the usual exchange-of-blood lore goes). It can happen when a vampire fucks up, as happens to Virginia. It’s not glamorous or mystical. It results from mistakes and human error.

eta II:

8. You might think of Let the Right One In as a bildungsoman but it’s really, really not. Near the beginning of this I asserted that the choice to live as a vampire rather than to die is a choice made only with the short-sightedness of youth. For all the years that Eli has lived, he still hasn’t grown up. Maybe he doesn’t like being a vampire, maybe he doesn’t like have to use people to get the blood he needs. But that doesn’t change the fact that he chose to be a vampire when there was a another, completely valid and possible, option open to him. He hasn’t grown up–he hasn’t learned what his killing to survive, which he views as necessary, can do to his victims (case in point: Jocke and Lacke).

Oskar makes the same choice that Eli makes. He does throw away his knife when he sees Eli kill Lacke. But when Eli emerges from he bathroom–splattered in Lacke’s blood–Oskar allows Eli to kiss him. He doesn’t rub away the blood. He accepts what Eli has told him: Eli must kill to survive. Oskar makes a value judgement: Eli is more important than the people Eli has to kill, and what will happen to the people who love the people that Eli has to kill. He operates with the short-sightedness (and lack of empathy?) of youth. He doesn’t grow up.

So really, Let the Right One In is more like an anti-bildungsroman. Oskar is given the mature into manhood, into adulthood–and rejects it. For puppy love, for infatuation. Look at how easily he runs away, barely any angst at all. He’s not going to grow out of that youthful microcosmic view of the world, not with Eli by his side, not as long as he accepts and condones Eli’s decisions as right and correct.

(I freaking love this movie!)


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