Monday, November 24, 2008
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Runtime: 114 min.
Genre: Drama, Horror
That young girl covered in blood you see in the image above is Eli (Lina Leandersson), and she is a vampire. The opening moments of the film show her being driven by a middle-age man, who we presume is her father and who we later learn is Hakan. They’re moving into a new neighborhood, which might as well be a new world. Hakan quickly and quite efficiently gets down to his business as he covers all the windows of the apartment with the sides of cardboard boxes. The next morning we see him pack his gear to hunt down people so that he could collect blood in a canister. He is not a vampire himself, but a guardian to one. She is 12-year old. Forever. And we wonder. Not only about Eli, but about Hakan.
And about Oskar. A 12-year old too, and the apartment Eli and Hakan move into is right next to his. Open the window, or get right next to the adjacent wall, and one can hear everything. Even as much as a knock. Now this boy, Oskar, he is a strange lad. A lonely lad lost deep in his own world. He is bullied, often cruelly, and he accepts the pain as if he believes he deserves it. He lies about his injuries. He carries a knife around hidden deep in his jacket, which he doesn’t use for self-defense but to stand in attacking postures against inanimate trees and mimic his school bullies, and dreaming of murdering them some day. If he grows into a high school shooter, I wouldn’t be surprised.
And he meets Eli. They grow towards each other, the outsiders, drawn into each other’s lonely existences. Let The Right One In is a very special film, a very rare film. It is a film that understands kids, and doesn’t condescend upon them by attributing either an out of place adult behavior or asking them to behave like two-dimensional sugar cubicles. Kids are individuals too, you know, impressionable individuals who aren’t constrained by the conventional social wisdom, its morality its various orientation and outlook. They’re discovering their world, as we all are, and I believe the best thing I could say about this Swedish film is that it feels as if it is discovering itself too. If anything is indeed preordained, it doesn’t feel that way. I am sure I do not recall even a single false moment in the entire picture. It has sequences where corpses, blood, and vampire make for the background while a moment as innocent and as tender as a first kiss touches us. It is a film that warms us and haunts us, moves us and disturbs us, and often at the same time. The fact of the matter is that Let The Right One In, as all remarkable films, diminishes drastically when described. It has to be felt to be realized what a beautiful gem it is. And you might have to ponder over a great length of time to realize what you truly feel.
But then, let me attempt, to describe the film for you by telling what isn’t shown, and leave you with the eager desire to watch the film. For that I might have to discuss Hakan, and although we aren’t served any details concerning him whatsoever, his actions and the few words serve a mighty lot in understanding him and Eli and imagine the probable fate of her romance with Oskar. But then, is it even a romance? The film provides us with no definitive answer, and rightfully so. Hakan says to Eli – There’re people who know my face, and who know that I live here with you. She remarks – Maybe you shouldn’t. Without missing a beat, he answers – What else am I good for? She lays her hand on his face, and he closes his eyes, as if remembering a lost time from a distant past. Maybe, quite a few years before, Hakan was a lost child too. Lost in himself. Having nobody as a friend. And you wonder, what wouldn’t someone do for love? He seems like a miserable man, one who’s aware of his own misery but is willfully choosing to live and die by it. It is pure in that way how one chooses to leave everything worldly to serve God for the rest of their life. Even if that God is glaringly imperfect. Because, some part of them knows, what else are they good for? Is it a tragic, shattering thought, or one that’s comforting? I don’t know. Maybe, loneliness is the greatest tragedy mankind has ever known. Maybe, feeling the pain, feeling the misery, feeling the envy of having the only person you have ever known pass by is way better than feeling utter loneliness. I can’t say for certain.
I believe the film is ambiguous in what it wants you to feel. If one chose to, one could look at the tender relationship between Eli and Oskar with deep cynicism, and branding it a bleak tragedy. I’m not sure that is the case, even though there’s great truth behind the reasons for that cynical view. There is something so pure and innocent in their attachment, though both need the each other for vastly different reasons. Maybe Oskar doesn’t understand, and maybe he will in time. And accept it. He’ll then probably understand the real significance of Eli’s question too – If I wasn’t a girl, would you like me anyway? You’ll realize what I’m talking about when we see a flash of Eli’s genitalia. She doesn’t want to keep him in the dark, or misguide him. He replies – I suppose so. But we might never know. And that is what makes it so special, and one of the greatest horror films of recent times. It inhabits your mind and knocks its presence long after you have seen it, and you’re wondering about the fate of Oskar. And Eli. You wonder if there’s anything more tragic than her existence, and you wonder if she realizes that. And then you wonder, if true, innocent and pure love, if it existed, knew any boundaries. And what is the farthest would it make someone go.
There’s great power in the unsaid, and a good film can channel that power to a great degree to serve itself. Not much is said in the dying moments of Heat, but as Elliot Goldenthal’s score starts floating about Pacino and De Niro, there’s a strange consoling effect that might never wane. I learn, courtesy the discussion board of the film on IMDb, that the novel has a great deal to say about the history of the characters, and lots of it is spelled out leaving nothing for our imagination. Here, Alfredson brilliantly perceives the mysterious aspect of the unsaid, and leaves us with the same unsettling effect we feel for the dark. We’re in dark about the past, and we’ve no idea what the future holds for them. The young actors, with their rigidity, offer a great degree of natural charm. Their performances do not seem measured, but organic. Much of the film involves them, and the way their scenes develop feels as if the film has no idea where these two kids will take it, and it is just following it. Their love and affection for the other doesn’t really know any boundaries and it might actually be a greatly comforting emotion. And yes, the final moment of the film is flushed with bright sunlight. But for me, an outsider, such brightness is as bleak as the darkness of the night. And that makes me shiver with horror.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 6:25 AM