In cartoons, it’s portrayed as the angel versus devil conversation. Amongst friends, it’s a joke you try to laugh nervously off. For every action we take, there’s a consequence – a misfire in our synapses, a large ‘what if I wasn’t so good? What if I was selfish?’ battle that wages back and forth in our brain, being pushed into the corner because that’s what being an adult means: making larger sacrifices for the greater good, and being responsible for your own thoughts. Let the Right One In begs to differ.
This is a guest post from Natasha H.
This film offers sweet temptation wrapped neatly in the box of being a vampire story, albeit one of the most unconventional ones I’ve ever seen. Rather than stomping down on those horrid feelings and being responsible, Let the Right One In avoids this by focusing on a pair of children deeply rooted in feelings of isolation, regret, jealousy, and despair. There is little rose-colored romance to be found here, as their relationship blossoms into a violent hunt to take down those who wronged them. It’s almost a constant hour and a half of dark thoughts whispered into your ear, and then action following suit. There is little room for forgiveness in the movie – from the likes of it, you could say that Let the Right One In is a coming of age tale about the worst aspects of humanity from the perspective of two kids who lost their innocence a long time ago. It’s bleak, harrowing, and a moody watch, which almost gives off the impression that it could be far too cynical for its own good.
And yet, perhaps it’s because it seems so daunting that its beating heart stands out all the more. Let the Right One In forces us to believe in a world where humanity is, at every point, awful. It gives us two characters that embark on their crusade to destroy bullying, ignorance, and apathy. But the emotional intimacy between Eli, the vampire girl, and Oskar, the poor bullied boy, is more real and fresh than anything one could possibly offer in a vampire film. For starters, both are honestly, painstakingly, real: Oskar is a boy who suffers from equal parts loneliness and self loathing, desperate to fight against the boys who bully him day after day in school. Eli, for all of her icy coolness, also suffers from insecurities – of longing for someone to understand her, accept her, and to run free without consequence. Even early on, the film makes it easy to find both these characters sympathetic due to their situations, but also on our preconditioned mindset of children and innocence.
In the beginning of this apocalyptic snow-covered world, Eli and Oskar can only offer each other words, harsh dreams, and basic curiosities. It starts with a Rubik’s cube, and naturally progresses to a friendship as they both become increasingly aware that the other is far more unhinged than originally thought. Society has shut them both out, but at least they have each other, and it is the simplicity of their actions which makes their emotional intimacy stand out all the more. They protect each other’s secrets, relish in each other’s worst dreams and nightmares, and best of all, still inspire the other to act upon instinct and selfishness. Nothing about this is healthy, and Let the Right One In easily takes care of showing us why. Adulthood in Let the Right One In is maybe about restricting our actions – perhaps on acting on the better of society – but it also means being blind to our surroundings, and apathetic to our harsh conditions. Eli and Oskar are on the opposite side of this, and as a result, gets to the core of honest, emotional intimacy: it’s because they care so much about each other and learn how to care for themselves that they can act the way they do.
It is also worth noting that unlike most vampire stories, which are innately sexual, Eli and Oskar’s relationship is grounded in something far more raw and powerful: pain. It’s a pain only they can understand, having endured years of torment, but never being able to process it or go up against it in traditional ways. Multiple times throughout the film, Eli tells Oskar that they cannot have a sexual relationship; at one point, she mentions that she may not even be a girl. Oskar cares not, and it’s this unconditional acceptance that becomes the foundation for their sweet but violent love.
I say sweet because at the end of the day, Let the Right One In is, as originally mentioned, harrowing and an examination of human cruelty. It looks at the monster inside of us – adult or not – and argues that at the end of all things, humans can be worse than vampires. But there’s a silver lining: perhaps it is being a monster, or befriending a monster, which can enable our deepest and most honest thoughts and find some inkling of humanity inside ourselves. Maybe all it needs is a little blood and guts along the way. Is it worth the effort though? Or should we continue with our stunted lives, becoming glassy eyed in the face of discrimination and prejudice?