Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Skumringen

Let The Right One In is a Norwegian film about the darker side of childhood and what life can be like for kids who are, either intentionally or through circumstances beyond their control, outsiders. First, there is Oskar. He's an outsider because he's weak and easy prey for bullies. Then there's Eli. She's an outsider because she's a vampire.

I'm sure when wrote that everyone thought, "Oh Lord, not another Norwegian movie about vampires." But seriously, Let The Right One In is an absolute gem. Since I saw it on Saturday, my mind has gone back to it again and again. This is a movie about children that children won't be allowed to see even though many of them would probably understand the things that Oskar and Eli go through better than many adults would. What they wouldn't understand is the violence and how seriously the movie takes the subject of vampires.

There's currently a spate of vampire stories in book, television and movies these days, most notably an HBO show called Fangs and Boobs* and this Friday's theatrical release of Twilight. They all follow basically the same model: a virginal, innocent ingenue meets up with some mysterious pretty boy who turns out to be a vampire. She quickly falls in love and has hot sex with his cold body but it all turns bad when she meets the other vampires who are always total douchebags. The evil vamps are decadent Eurotrash types who look perpetually bored and always have dialogue like, "These mortals are no better than cattle." Eventually the good and evil vampires go against each other and have elaborate fight scenes before good triumphs and the undead pretty boy and his hot not-quite-so-virginal-anymore girlfriend live happily ever after until the next episode or a sequel.

Eli is not a "good" vampire. She doesn't steal from blood banks or drink from pigs or lull humans gently into a pleasant hypnotic state to take just a bit of their blood. She brutally murders people so that she can live. She rips holes in their arteries and drinks their blood then breaks their necks because, if she left them alive, they'd become like her and the world would be full of vampires. These are not clean kills. Eli's face and clothes are always covered with blood after she feeds. Eli does have not contempt for the mortal race and often shows signs of conscience which probably makes what she does worse but she long ago made the decision to live even if it meant that the rest of the world would have to bleed and die.

When we first meet them, Oskar (who's probably the most Norweigan looking kid you'll ever see) is waving around a knife and fantasizing that he is stabbing the bullies who torment him. Out of his window he sees a cab pull up to drop off the new tenants moving into his apartment building. One of them is Håkan and the other is Eli (who's probably the least Norwegian looking kid you'll ever see) a girl whom you assume at first to be his daughter. You later see Håkan calmly packing items into a shoulder bag, items like knives, a funnel, a plastic jug and some sort of air tank that turns out to contain a knockout drug. It's Håkan's job to get blood for Eli so that she doesn't have to have her conscience tormented by doing her own killing.

It's never explained who Håkan is or why he does these things for Eli. At first I thought he was maybe her brother who had grown old while Eli had remained a girl. Then I thought maybe they'd met more recently and that, perhaps, he was a pedophile who was intrigued by the idea of the object of his desires would never grow to become a woman which would also explain why he seems jealous when Oskar and Eli become friends. I lean more in the "met recently" camp because Håkan thoroughly sucks at his job. His first kill takes place in a brightly lit and well traveled park where a dog chases him off and his second attempt at getting blood goes even worse for him. His devotion to Eli, though, is so through that he makes a gruesome sacrifice rather than risk her exposure.

Oskar and Eli meet in the apartment building's playground when Oskar is once again pretending to be stabbing bullies. In the middle of a Norwegian winter, Eli is outside wearing neither a coat nor shoes. She has intense, piercing eyes. And she smells. Like a corpse. She makes a point of saying that they cannot be friends yet oskar is intrigued and makes a point to hang out in the playground the next night. He pretends to be totally indifferent to her in the way that kids do but he does leave his Rubik's Cube and is impressed when he finds it the next day to see that she solved it. When they next meet, Eli has cleaned up and put on better clothes. I suspect that Eli is sizing Oskar up as a possible replacement for Håkan, or maybe she just wants a friend.

They grow closer and, when she finds herself alone, she somehow gets up to Oskar's window (she honestly tells Oskar that she flew up, a truth that Oskar understandably dismisses) but says she can't come in unless Oskar invites her and, in a later scene, we see the dire physical consequences of what happens when this particular bit of vampire lore is not fulfilled. When he does, she takes off her bloody clothes in the dark and gets in bed with him. Oskar is 12 and doesn't realize that this is the last time in his life that a naked girl can get in his bed and have it be considered a sweet and innocent act. He even asks Eli if she wants to be his girlfriend. Follow the asterisks for the spoiler of what happens next.**

When Eli does eventually confess her true nature to Oskar, he's overtaken by confusion. He knows he should be repulsed and run away but he has seen her good and decent side. She's the first true friend he's ever had and his divorced parents are too absorbed in their own lives to care that much for him. This makes each of them the only person on the planet who really gives a damn about the other one. In the short time they've known each other, their friendship has become the only thing that meks their sad live bearable. It's no wonder that Oskar doesn't want to give her up even when he sees her kill someone and why he stands passively as she gives him his first kiss even though a dead man's blood is still on her lips.

I've heard there will be a Hollywood remake of this movie for all the Americans who have an intense fear of subtitles. I have no idea how they will handle the story's dark themes and ideas. This is not a movie that shows and reinforces society's standard moral values. If it were, then the scene at the swimming pool (an awesome scene, by the way) where Oskar witnesses exactly what Eli is capable of against the bullies who confront him there would have Oskar vomiting in disgust and rejecting Eli forever. Instead, the 12 year old boy and the girl who has "been 12 for a very long time" smile at one another, smiles that signify friendship and first love. That's why Eli lets Oskar into her life. He smiles when he sees her and he's the only one who does.

*Those of you who have seen True Blood know that this is what it should be called.

**SPOILER: When Oskar asks her to be his girlfriend, Eli matter of factly states that she's not a girl. There is a bit of controversy to this as some think that she means she is not human but others think that she is, in fact, a boy. I'm going to keep referring to her as a girl because that's how I think of her.

1 comment:

Michael Clear said...

The title is the Norwegian word for "Twilight". I thought it was funny if a tad subtle.