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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Let The Right One In

I watched Let The Right One In finally. If you're reading this blog you've probably already seen it, so I'll skip right to a few thoughts about the film and skip the usual synopsis. You'd think I would have gotten to it sooner, and yet somehow here I was, half a year after the movie's release, and still all I knew was that this was a Swedish film that everyone couldn't stop talking about.
Nor should they-- here is a riveting vampire movie that both adheres to well-worn tropes of the genre and slyly subverts them.

Like many vampires, Eli has a helper/companion, Hakan. The image of the vampire helper goes clear back past Renfield-- Polidori's Ruthven, for instance, had a tag-along-- but in modern folklore, movie folklore, the image is always the same: like David Bowie in The Hunger, the companion is a slave to the vampire, sometimes a lover, always an accomplice. In Let the Right One In, the helper is an older man who serves Eli in near-silence, moving from one poorly executed murder to the next, seemingly crushed under the weight of his servitude. And like Bowie in The Hunger, his time has run out-- leading us to suspect that Oskar is as much a replacement for Hakan as a friend. Oh, sure, Eli likes Oskar, but she also needs him.

Eli is, after all, a real vampire. Not a reformed, vegetarian, watch-my-skin-shimmer-while-I-save-you-from-bullies vampire, but a real, I-get-hungry-and-kill-random-people vampire. While saving Oskar from bullies. Oskar is in her thrall, but it wouldn't be much different if Oskar had instead accepted the kindness of Henry the Serial Killer.

Eli has no sense of guilt. She's a vampire and a fairly matter-of-fact one, another race entirely. She does not feel cold because she has "forgotten how;" she's not a human anymore and eating humans is the messy business of life for her. She's melancholic, but one gets the sense in this movie that everyone's melancholic in Sweden.

Oskar is a fantastic character, a yearning, painfully meek 12-year-old who desperately needs the friendship that the vampire offers. My favorite image of Oskar is towards the end, after Eli kills an interloper in her apartment. He goes back to his room and immediately runs his hands over his toy cars, as if they are talismans of innocence-- and I suppose they are.

The filmmakers have indicated that Oskar's father is a drunk, and the weird scene where Oskar's dad's pal comes in is about how Dad can't stop drinking even during a visit from his son. I wish that explanation sat right, but that's not the kind of discomfort the scene projects. Regardless, Dad has an alternate lifestyle of some kind that has driven mom away, and Oskar's pain at this estrangement is palpable-- watch as he sniffs his father's sweater openly, wanting to drink in his father's presence.

In the end we are left with the start of Oskar and Eli's grand adventure. If Oskar is wondering how this will turn out, the answer is it will probably be pretty great, but sooner or later he needs to watch The Hunger.

One last thing: the bullies deserved it.

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