"Nothing more strongly arouses our disgust than cannibalism, nothing so surely unmortars a society; nothing, we might plausibly argue, will so harden and degrade the minds of those that practise it. And yet we ourselves make much the same appearance in the eyes of the Buddhist and the vegetarian. We consume the carcasses of creatures of like appetites, passions, and organs with ourselves; we feed on babes, though not our own; and the slaughter-house resounds daily with screams of pain and fear." -Robert Louis Stevenson
#763 - LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
I meant to write about it last summer. Then, last Halloween. Then, for Valentine's Day, then last month when the (ugh) American remake came out. Each time I failed you, Legion, but today I make amends.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN might possibly be the best Vampire movie ever made. In its own weird, creepy, disturbing, sweet psychotic way, it may be one of the best Romances too.
The film (in Swedish, with subtitles; more on that in a minute) is based on a 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and let us take a moment to talk about him. Lindqvist clearly sat down and thought through what it would be like in real life - strange as the notion may seem - if Vampires actually existed.
As much as I love the sexy-cool vibe of a True Blood or Underworld, Lindqvist's vision is more plausible. Imagine a being who is killed, but somehow does not die. Forced into this strange existence where daylight is so damaging to the body as to be fatal, and without regularly consuming nourishing oxygen-giving blood, flesh begins to rot. (One of the cool touches is that as the Vampire's need grows it begins to look sicker and sicker, as if wasting away from disease.)
Yes, we all know vampires have super speed and strength, but looked at naturalistically from the point of view of their limitations - they seem fragile, almost pathetic. Keep that in mind.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN follows 12 year-old Oskar, a boy with no friends, no father-figure, and no fun. Oskar is hunted, haunted, teased and tormented by bullies at school, and dreams of violent revenge he knows he's too much of a coward to ever pull off. We've all been there, or know someone who has. (Strange as it is to believe, Hyperion was picked on quite a bit as a child. I'm here to tell you the sad truth: Oskar's deadly revenge-fantasies are 100% accurate.)
In next door to Oskar moves Eli, also 12, along with an older man who never seems quite right. Soon enough we see this man kill a child and drain the blood for (we surmise) Eli.
Let me stop right there, because what I've just described sounds horrific, and I have no wish to downplay it. My understanding is that the book goes into this more explicitly, but the movie just hints that the old man is not just the servant of Eli, but there is some sort of sinister power struggle going on for them, and the old man has....evil intentions (toward children) of his own.
That aside, the scene where he kills the child and drains his blood is awful; no other way around it. (Not in quality, but in impact to watch.) Other than a small (and a somewhat bizarre) subplot involving cats, the film is incredibly grounded, and plays more like quiet character drama than as some glitzy monster movie. We fully feel the horror of what this man does to that boy. (As well as other acts of violence that, unlike most horror movies, do not litter throughout the scenes, but punctuate chillingly when we see them.)
By extension, we should judge Eli for the old man's actions. And, that's a fair point. What Eli does (take the blood of humans) is abhorrent, monstrous even. But go back up to the top and read the Robert Louis Stevenson quote again. (I bet you wondered why I had that there.) There are many Truths, but a movie can only be about one Truth, and in this movie, Eli does what she does for survival.
When I wrote that LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a Romance I did not mean in a sexual or conventional sense. Eli and Oskar are both 12 (though Eli has been 12 for a very long time). They do not relate that way. But they do relate, both understanding something within themselves and each other, Oskar is surely a victim of Society, but in her own weird way, so is Eli.
Normally I'm quite vociferous about keeping young ones from violent content - and to be sure, the violence in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN seems more brutal than your average slasher flick, partly because the movie seems so natural, without gloss and polish. Yet, a teenager will likely understand Oskar and Eli better than you do - instinctively. It's impossible to rationally defend everything that happens - yet it feels right.
Some of you are down on movies with subtitles, but I encourage you to be open-minded. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is largely without dialogue, relying on mood; quiet scenes to set our attention and build suspense. There are long passages without any words at all, and I don't think it will be too onerous to keep up even if you're not used to reading captions.
The last 15 years has given us the template of the Sexy Vampire movie, and I have no problem with that. Vampires can represent passion, lust, carnality of all kinds, and sometimes is a veritable metaphor for sex itself.
But there are other ways to look at it. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN takes the time to turn Vampire mythology inside-out, a fresh look at well-understood tropes, but from a totally different perspective. The result is terrifying, sweet, sad, disheartening and encouraging all at the same time.
You can't ask for much more from a movie than that.
October 28, 2010
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