Monday, February 02, 2009

Let the Right One In

Has anyone else noticed how this has become a movie-review blog?

Anyway. Last Thursday night I was in a lot of pain. I was suffering from strep throat, although I didn't know it for sure, I certainly could have guessed it as by late afternoon it had become impossible for me to swallow. I went to the gym, hoping to work out (silly), and walked in the freezing rain to the Angelika film center where I bought a ticket for one to Let the Right One In, the anti-Twilight, art-house Swedish vampire movie du jour. My boyfriend was leaving the next morning for Florida (lucky), and I was sick, and already lonely.

It was the first movie I'd ever seen in the theaters alone.

Let the Right One In
isn't really a vampire movie, aside from one of its characters being a vampire. It's a love story about two young outcasts who are thrown together in the dead of winter. It's about isolation, then love, and then acceptance. And the dissonance between the violence of the film and its unabashed belief in romance strikes a really wonderful-sounding chord, if you ask me.

Oskar is an cherubic little boy, bullied at school and largely ignored by his parents (alright, I take that back . . . both put in a considerable effort, but they're divorced, and I think his Dad might be gay). In other words, he's little guy who's put-upon by his circumstances. He spends most of his time reading about murders, and plotting revenge. And that's where Eli finds him, in the courtyard, practicing his stab technique with a tree.

There's something off about Eli . . . she's a little girl but the filmmakers have dubbed her voice so she sounds like a teenage boy. It's an effective technique. She's constantly dirty and rather anemic looking, as if she's suffering from dehydration. And on top of it all, she smells bad, according to Oskar. (Judging from the looks of her hair, it may have been upwards of 200 years since she's washed it). She even has a man who gathers blood for her. Because of their difference in age, some say he's a father-figure. I have to wonder if perhaps he's a former lover that's just aged when she has not. Theirs is a complex story which never really gets explained. It's lovely to be able to say I wish I knew more about them.

Eli at first is realistic about her attachment to Oskar, but his charm quickly grows on her. For one thing, he doesn't care that she's a vampire. If anything, he's just impressed that she managed to solve his rubik's cube. After a late night snack, from which Eli barely escapes, she crawls into bed with Oskar, her face smeared with blood. He asks, "Do you want to be my girlfriend?"

It's thrilling to watch two people simply accept each other for who they are, problematic as their relationship may be. And it's also empowering to watch Eli act as Oskar's defender against some really fucked-up bullies. I haven't seen Twilight, so I should reserve judgment. But it's hard for me to imagine that a Hollywood movie has the freedom to make the same provocative choices this film does. Genuine love story aside, it's inversion of the gendered vamp story is so refreshing, and on top of that the movie features some seriously realistic violence and some pretty awesome special effects. And, the sprinkles on top is that it's an absolutely beautiful film, a reminder that movies were once just moving pictures.

Alone or not, I highly recommend Let the Right One In. In fact, it's a fabulous departure from the sappy excuses offered up as date movies.


m said...

i loved this movie when i saw it at tribeca last year (my friend's boyfriend works at magnolia, the distributor), and we got to hear the filmmakers talk about it. eli is actually a little boy in the book the film is based on, but the producers decided to make her sort of ambiguously-gendered. which i think actually makes their friendship/romance more important.

Snobber said...

wow, hey lucky you!

i know, i read yesterday that in the books eli is actually a castrated little boy, which they allude to briefly in that one scene (totally disturbing!) makes me curious to read the book . . . have you?

and i definitely agree that it adds another layer to an already complex relationship. thanks for pointing it out!

L. said...

This is a great movie. I saw it on a date that made me very happy, but in retrospect I'm gladder about the movie than the date (one worked out better for me). Axel also saw this movie, sans me, and called me to tell me how much I would like it. That little boy is disturbingly attractive to me.

Snobber said...

lise, it's not just axel. i knew it was a lisa movie five minutes in!