Let the Right One In

I just finished watching the beautiful yet haunting, romantic yet unsettling Swedish film Let the Right One In (yes there are subtitles). It tells the tale of two young people who find comfort from their serious inner demons in each other's polar opposite nature.

Oskar, a 12 year-old boy from a broken home, is close to the breaking point after relentless bullying and loneliness. Enter Eli, a mysterious and intriguing child who befriends Oskar and saves him from his own anger, but eventually is forced to reveal her existence as a guilt-ridden vampire.

Beautifully shot and directed by Tomas Alfredson, the film is based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay. The film has swept up European film awards, but has only recently begun showing in the United States. Actress Lina Leandersson delivered a stunning performance of the quite human yet at times truly alien vampire Eli, and may well receive an Oscar nomination for it.

I truly recommend finding and watching this movie. Screenings have remained limited in the States, but Portland, OR has seen some screenings at Cinema 21, and there are some people (myself included) asking for a screening at the Bijou here in Eugene. A must see if it is shown here.

Addendum: It is interesting to compare the US and EU versions of the trailer. I put the international version at the head of the post, because I feel that it does a better job of conveying the feel of the movie. The American version has more of a screamer feel to it, and I'm not sure that it really conveys the movie well. Funnily enough, an English-language remake is being made of Let the Right One In already, and many fear that it will lose much of what made it such a fantastic movie.

Addendum 2: I wanted to mention a couple of plot critiques for those who watch the movie. So don't read the following if you don't want parts of the plot spoiled:

As I mentioned before, the movie is based on the book. But whereas the novel has time to fully explore all the issues it raises, the movie only touches on a couple of rather important plot points - Hakan's relationship with Eli compared to her relationship with Oskar, and Eli's history and transsexuality.

The book is much darker than the movie, and it is clear in the novel that Hakan's relationship with Eli is based on Hakan's pedophilia, and Eli's need of a servant. The two met when Hakan was already old, and Eli has no love for him, whereas she does have love for Oskar. This knowledge changes the ending significantly - the film seems to imply that Oskar is merely the new Hakan, but in the book it is clear that Eli considers Oskar to be "the right one".

Tangentially, the book is also much clearer on Eli's past. She is a 200 year old vampire, who was born a boy but then castrated, heavily abused, bitten and left to die. This is barely touched upon in the film - there is a quick shot of her castrate scars in the bathroom, and Lina Leandersson's voice was dubbed over for a more androgynous one. She says repeatedly "I am not a girl", but the reader can easily interpret that as her admitting that she is a vampire.

In my opinion, these two plot points are significant, yet lazily done. Apparently there was a surreal sequence to better explain them that was cut. While there is some merit to leaving room for the viewer's interpretation, I think that the ambiguity instead leads to confusion as to the director's intent. I would have chopped off (hah) the transexuality angle in lieu of clarifying Eli's feelings about Hakan. Her scars are good at conveying the child's perspective of sex as being mysterious and somewhat sinister, but it adds little to her character as a whole and invokes questions as to why it isn't a larger part of the story.


Anonymous said...

I agree. I hadn't read the book before watching the film, and I now see that I probably misread several elements of the story. The scene in which Eli asks, "if I wasn't a girl, would you like me anyway?" I interpreted as "if I wasn't human, would you like me anyway?" The shot where Oskar peeks in the room and gets sees Eli's crotch seemed weird, and looked a little off, but I figured it was a 12 year old boy getting his kicks. Finally, without knowing Hakan was actually a pedophile, the obvious conclusion to me was that at some point in the past, he had been in the same position Oskar was now; Eli had played them both. The back story is definitely needed.

Two things I'm still unsure of though:

What was with Oskar's father and the male visitor he had over? Another pedophile angle that wasn't made clear?

And during the scene where Eli asks Oskar to, "be me for a little while" does she appear much older for a split second? Is this supposed to be what she would look like had she aged naturally?

Tristan said...

Well, I think that Oskar's father was probably gay, which is why he didn't live with Oskar's mother. The visitor seemed to be his lover.

And yes, there are actually a couple of scenes where Eli suddenly changes her appearance to look closer to what she really is: a 200-year old male. It's actually a completely different actor. Tangentially, Eli's lines were completely dubbed because the actress' voice sounds too feminine.

Anonymous said...

Oskar´s father and his visitor are alcoholics, not gay, nor pedophile. I´m from Danmark (neighbour to Sweden) and there´s really no hint to the other possibilities when you look at it from a nordic cultural angle... Divorce isn´t unusual in Sweden and it´s probably a very low percentage of these that´s due to homosexuality.