By Zak Rye. Between low-brow and no-brow this is unCultured, where we attempt to shed a new light on some of our favorite misunderstood and often overlooked films. This week, we re-examine the romantic magnetism of Tomas Alfredson’s passionately elegiac opus, Let the Right One In.
Before anything else, it should be noted that Let the Right One In is a vampire movie. Blood is sucked from necks, sunlight is cautiously avoided, and concepts like immortality come into play. With that being said, Let the Right One In is also, perhaps, one of the most sincere and uncorrupted love stories ever told. Admittedly, this is stated with proposal that love and manipulation are often inseparable dynamics. Beyond the tired and transparent mythology that we’re all overly used to, a subversive and multifaceted narrative is presented with beautiful simplicity and overwhelming compassion.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay), and remade with respectable loyalty in the US as Let Me In, Let the Right One In surpasses genre categorization. On paper, it is understandably labeled as a horror film. Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a submissive boy, an introvert bullied by his classmates, and secretly obsessed with the macabre. Eli (Lina Learndersson), who is seemingly the only other child in Oskar’s apartment complex, is equally reclusive, but for reason that become more apparent over time. The two form a slow and exclusive friendship that at all times seems predestine: Eli’s true form is revealed, unhurriedly, in parallel with the development of the two’s relationship, which truly creates the lion’s share of the drama. We learn of Oskar’s troubles with school bullies, Eli’s peculiar relationship with her companion, Hakan, the townspeople’s confusion over recent murders, but all of this stands in the long shadow cast by the chemistry between Oskar and Eli.
Alfredson crafts a poignant, enveloping sense of isolation that surrounds the characters. Conversely, this backdrop of dire loneliness amplifies our interpretation of the fervent connection between Oskar and Eli. They, at times, seem to be the only two people in the world, or the only two that matter at least. Through the captivating amalgamation of adolescent curiosity and hardened wisdom, a tangible and irrefutable need is evident between the two. Bonded by a perceived completion of one another — Eli longing for lost youth and Oskar desperate for a genuine form of companionship — there inevitably come inescapable details that poke through their seemingly impenetrable affinity for one another. Specifically…Hakan.
While Lindqvist opted to tone down Hakan’s unconcealed pedophilia for the screen adaptation, his relationship with Eli leaves the audience with some unresolved yet intriguing hypotheses (assuming you’ve not read the book). In the film, Hakan is presented to us in an ambiguous light. While he is certainly a dedicated caregiver and admirer of Eli, he is not a vampire. Thus, he is not so much perceived to be her partner, but rather her servant. He’s an aged man, and we could certainly presume that his relationship with Eli started long ago in the same amorous fashion as Oskar. Following this theory regrettably subtracts from the serendipitous surface appearance of our young power couple, but absolutely adds a lingering inquisitiveness regarding “what’s to come” that few films provoke with such subtle audacity.
One of the more honorable aspects of the film is its carefully calculated and subdued approach regarding the traditional vampire mythology. Let the Right One In is, again, a vampire movie. Moreover, and more importantly, it’s a love story. A rare account of obscure, though inimitable attraction that, as viewers, is accepted as pure and uncompromised devotion. Eli is not seen as an inhuman creature; Oskar is not seen as a child. In stripping away the roles we’ve come to expect from a vampire, or an eleven year old, we’re left with two accepting beings that have found each other to be essential; killer or victim, human or not, alive or dead, love or need. It’s honest and brutal, but still somehow astoundingly comforting.
Five more things that kind of change everything about Let the Right One In:
5) As we mentioned above, Hakan is a pedophile. This is expressed in detail in the novel, but barely even suggested in the film. In the director’s commentary, Tomas Alfredson remarks, “Hakan likes children, for the wrong reasons”.
4) Regardless of the constant use of gray tones and diffused light, nearly every scene of the film contains the color red. Around halfway through, it becomes impossible to disregard this as being coincidental.
3) Most viewers, including myself, will interrupt Eli’s line “I’m not a girl” as a delicate explanation to Oskar that she is no longer what we would consider human. In actuality, this statement is, and should be taken, literal. Though downplayed in the screenplay, Eli is actually a boy who was castrated before being turned into a vampire. The only hint towards this is a brief shot of their scarred and maimed genitalia while she changes into one of Oskar’s mother’s dresses.
2) If you’ve ever caught Let the Right One In on TV, there’s a good chance it was dubbed over in English, poorly, and nearly unbearable to watch. However, in the original film, middle-aged Swedish actress, Elif Ceylan, flawlessly acts as the voice of Eli, from start to finish. This decision was due in part to Lina Learndersson’s natural, eleven year old, voice being too high pitched and juvenile to portray a 300 year old vampire, but also to make her sound more frightening.
1) In addition to winning multiple awards for the stunningly severe and gorgeous film photography, Let the Right One In also took numerous awards for Best Sound Design. The crew utilized classical analog techniques from 1950s radio to simulate Eli biting into flesh and drinking blood, that being Elif Ceylan biting into a sausage and then drinking yogurt. And, if you’ve not already Googled it, the Morse code tapping in the closing scene is Eli saying to Oskar, “kiss”, to which he responds, “small kiss”.