Sinking her teeth into the neck of an unsuspecting victim, Eli’s actions are hardly those one would associate with a quiet 12-year-old girl. However, Eli has been a 12-year-old girl for a very long time.
Picking up various awards both in the United States and Europe, “Let the Right One In” has caused quite the stir on the international film scene since debuting in Sweden in 2008. Presented by the Film and Video Center (FVC) this past Thursday, the film was a testament to the diversity exhibited by the FVC’s winter quarter 2009 schedule. Featuring films made from 1928 to 2008, in various languages and settings, the FVC has plenty to offer for both the casual moviegoer and the film fanatic alike.
Directed by Tomas Alfredson, “Let the Right One In” tells the story of Oskar and Eli, a boy and a girl living in Blakeberg, Sweden. Yet, while Oskar’s youth is fleeting, Eli’s is eternal as she reveals to him her identity as a vampire over the course of the film.
Still, while this motion picture is technically a “vampire movie,” this is not pounded into the audience’s head in the way that Hammer Film Production’s “Dracula” films were. Instead, the word “vampire” barely appears in the film. Likewise, while the instances where Eli claims a victim can be graphic, they are also brief and do not weigh down the dialogue-heavy film. In fact, some of the film’s most emotional moments are exchanges between Oskar and Eli that have nothing to do with vampires or the supernatural. Instead these conversations touch on universal themes such as alienation and companionship.
The film’s complexities are perhaps what set the motion picture apart from many contemporary monster films. As a result, there is no definitive way to read the film. Bliss Lim, a film and media studies professor, who introduced the film, touched on this in her presentation.
“There’s a potential political reading of the film, there’s a queer reading of the film that’s possible and there’s a reading of the film that … is about monstrosity, about narrative,” Lim said.
Perhaps, one of the more interesting topics Lim discussed was the use of a brief shot of Eli’s genitals. Although the shot is brief and never discussed between the principle characters, it is also quite telling as Eli’s genitals appear to be mutilated. According to Lim, this presents the possibility that in life Eli was a castrated boy. This, in addition to Eli telling Oskar that she is not a girl, contributes to a queer reading of the film.
Yet, the movie’s ambiguity prevents this from being the lone reading of the film. This is partly because Eli could have just as easily been trying to reveal that she was not a girl in terms of humanity, rather than gender.
As a whole, the film takes an approach toward the vampire legend that is reminiscent of Anne Rice’s writing in “The Vampire Chronicles” series. This is because while both works present their characters as vampires in the literal sense, they also use aspects of the vampire myth to draw on human emotions.
Living through the ages as a 12-year-old, Eli is left with a detached feeling from her surroundings. Being called “pig” and bullied by his classmates, Oskar can relate to this detachment, and thus a friendship is born.
As Lim noted in her presentation, the title of the film, which is taken from a song by Morrissey, further draws on the layered approach taken toward the vampire legend.
“The title refers to the legend that a vampire can enter a household only when invited. However, the title also refers to the painful decision of who you let into your heart,” Lim said.
For those, unwilling to test the waters of international film exhibition, the film is also scheduled to be remade for American audiences by “Cloverfield” director Matt Reeves. Yet, by only seeing the remade version, moviegoers will deprive themselves of Alfredson’s approach and possibly be unable to make interpretations that the original has already made room for.
The FVC will continue its winter quarter 2009 schedule with a showing of “The Crowd” on Jan. 29. Although the film was made before sound films had become the standard in moviemaking, audiences should not be fooled.
While given the “silent movie” label, there will be little silence about its presentation as the showing will be accompanied by a live pianist.