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I am glad to be able to include the following appreciation of Tomas Alfredson's Let The Right One In by Nina Avedon. She is not a professional critic or reviewer (fortunately) and brings a fresh and personal perspective to the work. I highly recommend both the film and her essay. -- R.C.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
A film directed by Tomas Alfredson
An appreciation by Nina Avedon
Liminal; from the Latin word Limen meaning threshold
In a world that is ice filled and bleak, where the landscape is devoid of sun or beauty, where the grown ups are well meaning but ineffectual, where you are tormented by a troika of cruel and cowardly classmates, what is a sensitive vulnerable boy of twelve to do but let another outsider in?
Oskar and Eli are two sides of the same coin. Both are only children; one male one female- both a bit androgynous looking. In fact, Eli may not be a girl at all in the conventional definition of gender (as she corrects Oskar on several occasions.) And indeed, midway through the film there is a quick shot of her ambiguous genitalia. Oskar is fair and gentle on the surface, Eli is dark and dangerous. But, as we come to see, fair is foul and foul is fair. Oskar is riddled with revenge fantasies and Eli provides him with some much needed advice and protection. She functions as the big sister he doesn’t have for though they are the same age, she has been trapped for eternity in a terminal state of twelve. “Are you dead?” Oskar inquires of Eli after he discovers she’s a vampire. “No”, she declares. “Can’t you tell?”
And make no mistake; this is a film that asks us to consider the meaning of existence. The grown ups we see are alive but they may as well be dead. There is little warmth or understanding shared; little of substance communicated. What feelings there are go unexpressed or numbed by alcohol. This film asks the question, “What are little boys and little girls made of?” And the imagery used in an attempt to answer this query is way beyond the snakes and snails and sugar and spice of the eponymous nursery rhyme. Rather, it is in the realm of flesh and blood. The leitmotif of light and dark, of cold and hot run throughout and is turned on its head. After all, we see that the sun can kill and the night protect. We are asked to consider if one can be both cold blooded and warm hearted. The film plays with these images and metaphors as it challenges us to take a close look at what it means to be human with all the pain, suffering, violent contact and moments of tentative affection.
Our hero and heroine in this tale of black magic are on the cusp of puberty; a time of real horror for many. Adolesence is a liminal space between childhood and adulthood. It is a time of rage against the rules that one still has to follow as well as a time when our bodies are bidding us to follow their biological mandate. The film also suggests that we ponder the notion of fate and free will. How much control or choice do we really have over our destinies? After all, Eli doesn’t want to kill she is compelled to as she plaintively tells Oskar while reminding him that he has murder on his mind if not yet in deed. And she is proved to be right in a later scene when the camera remains on Oskar’s face as a half smile of sadistic pleasure appears while he listens to the screams coming from the bully who has now become his victim.
Most of us don’t have to drink another’s blood to survive like Eli but there are a myriad of ways that we feed on one another; that we bleed one another in an attempt to get our needs or those of our loved ones met. Eli’s father or father figure (it is unclear who this older man is,) is depicted as a devoted protector as well as a vicious serial killer. In one of the most primitive and poignant scenes in this film, we see a ravenous and distraught Eli knock on her father’s hospital window asking for permission to enter. We then watch the self inflicted disfigured face of this man as he uses his last bit of strength to offer himself up as nourishment to his daughter before he hurls out of the window to his death. It is an image at once repellent and intimate. And we have to ask ourselves, “What parent wouldn’t willingly sacrifice their own life to save their child?”
Eli may be a murderer but she is depicted as being as vulnerable and lonely as Oskar is. According to the lore of this film, one has to invite a vampire in. If you do not, she may be destroyed, if you do, you may be. So a door or a window becomes a symbol both of the risk of letting danger in and the danger of keeping connection out. When Oskar plays with his new found capacity to use power over another and withholds the necessary invitation to Eli, Eli turns ashen, begins to shake and weeps blood. A remorseful Oskar protectively throws himself on her in an awkward embrace and we in the audience are similarly thrown as we witness such fragility.
The penultimate scene is an echo of an opening one- a dark sky with snow flurries. We think that the film will end here; with this cold but beautiful un-peopled night skyscape but it doesn’t. We see our two young protagonists on a train with the sun streaming in. (One of the few daylight scenes in this film). Or rather, we see Oskar tapping on a box that we presume contains Eli. We have come full circle. It is now Oskar who is protecting Eli. Oskar will age. Will he take the place of the former protector who met his death saving Eli or does the sun hint at a different ending? It is purposely left ambiguous. All we know is that they are on a journey… we know not where.
This film is a fairy tale as well as a horror story; a love story as well as a cautionary tale. Let The Right One In invites us to examine the nature of love in all its glory and gory details. It asks us to look at who we love, why we love and how love can transform us for both good and evil. As mentioned earlier, the film depicts the fierce love of a father for his daughter as well as the innocent not quite sexual love of these two only lonely children who function like siblings. (Oskar, prior to discovering Eli is a vampire cuts his arm in a gesture to mingle his blood with hers and become blood brother and sister in body as well as in spirit. )
In a film I recently saw from Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbor Denmark entitled Just Another Love Story, one character asks, “Where is love located?” Another character responds “It is here,” he says as he points, to a spot on the brain, “Where pleasure and association meet.” I think that Let The Right One In says rather that love resides beyond the physical in the metaphysical. This film is replete with real and metaphorical thresholds; with those transitional spaces where life meets death, where inner meets outer where childhood meets adulthood , where self meets other, where fantasy mingles with reality. Where is love located? Perhaps love is located in a place of alchemical power; a place of creativity and possibility. Where is love located? Maybe it is located in that liminal space where you let the right one in.
Nina Avedon 12/03/08
Andrew Bujalski on the art and business of film
/ Charles Lyons on going for broke
/ The Puffy Chair
/ Why Film Production Majors Should Be Replaced by Auto Mechanics
/ JuneBug, 2046, and Mutual Appreciation
/ David Chien on Caveh Zahedi's I am a Sex Addict
/ Donal Foreman on Independent Film
/ Donal Foreman on the Irish Television and Film Industry
/ Quotations about the artistic process/ Tarkovsky on film school and trying to please people
/ Donal Foreman on the State of the Art / Other films and filmmakers / Quiet City / Henry James, Art of Fiction 1 / Henry James, Art of Fiction 2
/ Emerson, Circles, 1 / Emerson, Circles, 2 / Avedon on Alfredson / David Ball Interview