Monday, December 1, 2008
Finally saw Let The Right One In and can't get it off my mind. Especially after this past couple months - watching every episode of True Blood, reading & seeing Twilight and approaching the end of New Moon, this film has a very particular resonance. It really takes the question of "What if vampires were real and you fell in love with one?" and answers it with quiet, beautiful & terrifying honesty. If such a scenario were possible, anyone involved would be facing the harsh reality of a difficult, disturbing and often disgusting life. It would only take the open hearted innocence of a child to be aware of this possibility, but move forward anyway. Understanding this immediately separates Let The Right One In from its predecessors. Its protagonist, Oskar, is of an age where he can perceive the difference between right and wrong, but isn't in a place yet where the magnitude or consequences of any given act can really sink in or seem tangible. He meets a girl who is smart, pretty enough and most importantly, pays attention to him - gives him the respect he can't find anywhere else in his life. So she is a vampire too - what does that matter? What should be a grave thought to an adult or even a teenager is lost on a twelve year old.
The real world ramifications demonstrated in this film are beyond harrowing. There is no synthetic blood, no hunting animals for these vampires. There is only the thirst for honest to god human blood that must be quenched somehow. In the case of Eli, the indeterminately aged woman trapped in the body of a 12 year old, she has Hakan, an older man posing as her father, go out, slit someone's throat, drain him of all his blood and bring it back for Eli to drink. Eventually we come to realize, though it's never spelled out or made perfectly clear, that this man is in love with Eli himself. According to the book, he is a pedophile who believes his love for Eli is pure and perfect since she will always be young. This is downplayed in the film so as not to distract from the main storyline, but with Hakan's painful request that Eli not see Oskar for just one night, we understand their relationship. This man is an outcast who will sacrifice anything for Eli and eventually does, in one of the more horrifying sequences on film this year.
Another consequence of having a vampire fall in love you? Should anyone fuck with you, they will die. They will die horrible horrible deaths. That is just the reality of the situation. No matter how far away the vamp is, she will come to you. None of this talk to you in your head then go to Italy to commit suicide stuff coughnewmooncough, but straight up, rush to your side, pull the heads off some mean 12 year olds and save your life like a blood soaked angel. And don't tell me that isn't the image that entered your head in that moment, cause I won't believe you. What I found especially beautiful about the ending swimming pool scene was the careful build, the tension that ran throughout as we thought that Oskar was actually about to die. Then just as we remember Eli's promise to him that if he didn't hit the bullies back, she would, the film's exceptional sound design begins to bring her back to us, our confirmation in the form of a severed head tossed into the pool.
I also couldn't help but appreciate the fact that once Oskar witnessed Eli unable to control herself when his blood was spilled (more likely the true reaction a vampire would have, Bill & Edward....) he came to the natural conclusion that she must be a vampire. Clearly they exist in real world environment, where everyone knows what a vampire is from the numerous books and movies on the subject. To Oskar, who we are to understand has been suspecting the existence of vampires for a while, it is clear what she is. To the adults in the story, it isn't so obvious. They don't have the openness, the willingness, the imagination of a child, and therefore despite all the clear signs, they view it as an "infection" more so than jumping to the immediate conclusion of, oh, vampires, duh. It is only in the final moments of a bitten adult woman's life that she realizes what she may be and asks for the hospital curtains to be opened as a way to reach death and the end of her new found suffering.
By the way, while some say Eli is manipulating Oskar the whole time in the hopes of turning him into the next Hakan, I am of the belief that she genuinely cares for Oskar. The vampires in this world maintain the mental age of when they were bitten, not just the physical age, and I like to think Oskar is her first love. If he does become her next way of getting blood (which I believe he is too humane to do anyway - he isn't a killer) it won't be because Eli had that intention from the beginning. It makes it all the more heartbreaking to think that soon, whether Oskar likes it or not, he may be considered a pedophile, an outcast himself - facing the real world reality of what happens when you fall in love with someone who never ages.
And if you're wondering about that genitalia shot, check out Moriarty's interview with Alfredson over on Aint It Cool. Very strange stuff that I definitely did not get from a first viewing.
***End of Spoilers***
I can't recommend this film enough, especially for vampire fans who, you know, are having a pretty great year. It's both horrifying and sweet, disturbing and romantic and really points out the possibilities completely overlooked by the Twilight series and most other tales dealing with the forbidden love between a vampire and human. And though I don't know much about the technicalities of filmmaking, Tomas Alfredson nails it for me. It was beautifully shot and edited, resulting in a slow steady tension that most modern day horror films WISH they could pull off. And I can't remember the last time I was so affected by a film's sound design. Not to mention, the audience is hit over the head with nothing. Most of the vampire rules are in place, but we see them in action, rather than have them explained to us. The film trusts that we as an audience know enough about vampire lore to understand why events unfold the way they do. Everything is in the details, the nuance. Instead of ever learning just how old Eli is (in the movie - the book makes it clear), we are left to postulate for ourselves based on her clothes, the music she listens to, and the objects she collects. And what happens to her face when...well you'll see for yourself.
I could go on, about how the film brilliantly uses what we DON'T see as a storytelling tool and how it shows that vampires wouldn't be glamorous, but rather kind of gross and always reeking of blood, but we don't want to be here all day. If you want to see a true Vampire film, put Let The Right One In at the top of your list. And please, if you have any thoughts on the film, post below!
Trailer for Let The Right One In