Let The Right One In.

There’s something funny about the girl who just moved into the apartment next door. She doesn’t go to school. She doesn’t wear a jacket even though it’s the middle of winter. She smells funny and her stomach is always growling. When we get a look inside her apartment we find that it’s devoid of furniture.

Our hero, Oskar, an awkward twelve-year-old boy growing up in a drab suburb of Stockholm, arrives at the logical conclusion. “Are you poor?” he asks his new friend.

Well…not exactly.

Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) is an unusual horror story. Yes, there’s blood and death and dismemberment. But that’s nothing, the film suggests, next to the horror of being twelve. You’re skinny and you look ridiculous in your gym shorts. The other boys at school torment you because you’re a little smarter than they are. Grown-ups are clueless, yet your life is subject to their whims. All that’s bad enough. But what if you were twelve forever?

The girl next door, Eli, has been stuck on the cusp of adolescence for a long, long time; how long, she can’t or won’t say. She’s seen and done things that her gormless new neighbour has only dreamt of. And yet, for all her experience, Eli comes across as an innocent kid acting tough. When she makes friends with Oskar, is drawn into (or draws him into?) a chastely romantic relationship, are we to view her as a lonely girl surprised by long-forgotten hormonal stirrings? Or as a wizened old predator seeking young flesh? The movie sustains the first reading but hints strongly at the second, as when, eerily, the adorable young actress who plays Eli, Lina Leandersson, is replaced for a moment or two by a similar-looking but much older woman.

I can’t recommend this film enough, and yet I’m reluctant to write more about it because I don’t want to give anything away. I should mention that the climax is the most extraordinarily economical “action” setpiece I’ve ever seen. It’s a long static shot with Oskar’s face filling most of the frame; the violence takes place offscreen, with only the intrusion of a couple bloody props to show what’s happening, and yet it’s so well choreographed (and the sound design is so perfect) that we know exactly what’s going on, and it fills us with a combination of vengeful glee and bone-deep dread. I can’t explain it better than that. Go see the movie.

***

If you’ve already seen Let The Right One In, you may read on.

***

One thing that I missed, which my viewing companions pointed out afterward, is that there is “something funny” about the crotch shot. As you’ll recall, this is the moment when Oskar peeks in on Eli as she’s changing into a clean dress. As she pulls the dress down, Oskar gets a momentary view of her uncovered crotch.

Maybe I’m blind, but all I saw between her legs was a dark patch which I assumed was a tuft of pubic hair. Oskar’s reaction – he ducks away from the doorway, eyes wide – is consistent with the behaviour of a twelve-year-old boy who’s just seen his first naked girl. But my fellow filmgoers insisted that Oskar had seen something besides pubic hair. Something like a scar.

I did a little research on various message boards, which led me to the following interview by Karin Badt with the director, Tomas Alfredson. It’s a good interview which I encourage you to read in its entirety, but I’ll pull out the relevant quotes:

I tried to do a flashback scene, where we see the castration of Eli [the girl vampire] two hundred years ago, with very close shots of a knife coming close to skin, starting to cut, and I said to the make-up guys that I want to do this. They said you can’t do this unless it is real animal, because if you are so close to the camera, you can’t use rubber or special effects, so I said okay, let’s do that then, then I forgot about it, and the assistant director said, we have the pig here now. I said, what pig? The pig for the cutting shot. A living pig. He is outside together with the slaughterer. So I went outside the studio and a butcher was standing with his knife, and this pig looking with his sad eyes. I said no. I wouldn’t be able to sleep if we killed him. That’s bad karma.

And:

The script is based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I wrote it with a screenwriter: he wrote and I added structure. I cut the novel to only one track: the love story. What makes it unusual is that it is a love story with no sex, with a castrated boy.

I’m glad that Alfredson decided not to kill the pig, and I’m glad that the castration scene was left out. In fact, knowing now what it signifies, I wish the crotch shot had been left out, too. But perhaps the director thought that he’d already deviated far enough from the novel and that the author would blow his top if the film elided the non-trivial detail of Eli’s transgenderedness.

Now that I look back I can see that this detail was suggested elsewhere, most explicitly in the scene where Eli asks Oskar “Would you still like me if I wasn’t a girl?” (It’s possible to assume that she’s only hinting that she’s not a human girl.) But I can’t help feeling that the crotch shot – so quick and dim that a lot of viewers, like me, are going to miss the point entirely – is either too much or too little. Take it out, and readers of the book can still pick up on the other hints and nudge each other knowingly. If it’s left in, a bit more explanation is wanted.

***

Judging from the descriptions of the plot I’ve picked up here and there, the novel Let The Right One In is a lot less ambiguous and a lot more lurid than the movie. For instance, in the novel the character of Håkan, the old guy whom Eli is living with at the beginning, is a pedophile. In an interview with the website Icons of Fright, Alfredson explains that this information was left out of the film because if the theme of pedophilia were introduced, given the prurient fascination it would attract, it would overwhelm the story and crowd out the central relationship between the two kids.

To my mind, if Håkan were definitively portrayed as a pedophile it would upset the disturbing symmetry of the narrative. What made the film especially poignant to me was the realisation that Håkan, presumably, had started out like Oskar, as a “childhood” crush of Eli’s. The question left unresolved (beautifully) by the ending was, did Eli cynically manipulate Oskar into the now-empty role of factotum? Or was her loneliness and neediness genuine? Not that the one answer precluded the other. (Now, having read these interviews with Alfredson, I realise that this is not necessarily the “correct” interpretation, i.e., the one the director intended.)

Now, if Håkan were a pedophile – or to be more precise, someone who was initially drawn to Eli sexually rather than having been in love with her from an early age – the Håkan-Oskar symmetry would be destroyed. Håkan would become a mere monster instead of a tragic figure, Eli would become merely a victim, and Oskar merely her saviour. I find this gloss on the story less satisfying not because I’d rather think of Eli as evil and Oskar as doomed, but because I’d rather not know for sure: I’d rather be free to wish.

M.

Update, Mar 21 2009: The Onion AV Club has just put up a Book Vs. Film discussion by Tasha Robinson that gets into the plot of the novel in some detail. Her post ratifies my suspicion that the novel is “a lot less ambiguous and a lot more lurid than the movie”:

[W]here the book is a well-told but conventional horror story, the film is more unconventional. Its long silences and chilly tone summon up dread better than the book’s grotesque descriptions of pedophile vampires.

Now I have another question. Robinson writes that “knowing the author was behind the screenplay helped” her to come to the conclusion that she preferred the movie to the book. John Ajvide Lindqvist is the credited screenwriter for Let The Right One In. Why, then, does the director, in the interview I quoted above, say, “The script is based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I wrote it with a screenwriter: he wrote and I added structure”?

If Alfredson actually wrote the movie himself (with a collaborator) it would explain the huge differences in tone between book and screenplay. But you can’t argue with that screenwriter credit. Anyone have an explanation?

18 Responses to “Let The Right One In.”


  1. 1 Scroidic January 18, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Nice discussion you have here.

    You’re not alone about the pool scene. Even pros love it:

    http://www.incontention.com/?p=3883

  2. 2 Chad January 28, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    What about the father’s friend? Why the lingering shot of his snow-covered feet (wearing only socks and sandals in the snow) and ensuing awkwardness? At first I thought the friend was also a vampire (not feeling the cold). Then I thought they were gay?

  3. 3 orangeraisin February 6, 2009 at 12:12 am

    Yes, after we saw the film there was some discussion about that strange scene with Oskar’s father and his drinking buddy. Prevailing theories in our group were, A) Oskar’s dad is gay, which might explain why the parents split up, or, B) Oskar’s dad is an alcoholic.

    Someone who claimed to be familiar with the book asserted that explanation B) is the canonical one. But it doesn’t make much sense in cinematic terms: if you’re trying to convey that someone is an alcoholic, shouldn’t you show them behaving in a manner consistent with our idea of alcoholism – drinking alone, slurring their words, and passing out – rather than just sharing a friendly drink with a visitor?

    If someone comes across an interview with the director or screenwriter where this scene is explained, I’d love to see the link posted here.

    M.

  4. 4 Tony January 15, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I just saw this file yesterday and wanted to get clarification on it. Your explanations were great. The father’s drinking buddy just walking in the front as if he lived there, told me that his father was having a relationship with him. I thought at any moment his father was going to confess to his son that he was gay. It was kinda weird in the next scene that Oskar hitched a ride back to moms place that night (or am I remembering wrong?).

  5. 5 OD March 10, 2010 at 2:33 am

    Just watched this and I agree with the above comment about Oskar’s father. I totally felt that he was kind of ‘introducing’ Oskar to a xlose friend who may be a little more that that.

    Also, judging by Eli’s lack of emotion while killing the man who claims to be her dad/supplier, I have to assume that she uses emotional manipulation to survive. This seems very evil to us, but she sets this up when she tells Oskar to hit back hard. It’s like she’s admitting to a very cold attitude for humanity after what’s happened to her. This corresponds with what we witness to be passive adults who do nothing to protect the kids.

  6. 6 eandoa May 29, 2010 at 2:28 am

    Without reading the book there really is a lot left to be assumed and interpreted on your own. I find this unfortunate because most scenes and plot suggestions leave you to believe something other than what is really supposed to happen. While the movie was fantastic, the book is much better and explains things so much more. I loved that in the book you can really understand the relationship between Elli and Oskar and why it develops. The book suggests it was never manipulation that brought them together in the end, but just a love and understanding of the other. I liked that ending better personally.
    Also the movie didn’t explain the scene with the father very well i agree. It is explained in the novel that Oskar’s father is an alcoholic and becomes a mean drunk when he drinks.
    Also, i was disappointed after finishing the movie that they left out a huge plot twist, and essentially the scariest part of the book, involving the resurrection of Hakan into some sort of vampiric-zombie undead creature. eek!

    as unnecessary as the u.s. remake in the works right now is, i hope they do add in that part of the plot.

  7. 7 mamamojo June 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    No folks, the dad & his friend – a neighbor, are not gay. Keep in mind this is a Swedish film, not American, and this is adapted from a novel that is a lot less ambiguous and more direct than the fim. According to the author (who is Swedish) and the filmmaker, it is common in Sweden for neighbors and friends to visit each other specifically in search of alcohol. The dad does have an alcohol addiction.

    http://fox-tractorfacts.blogspot.com/2008/11/let-right-one-in-did-eli-manipulate.html

  8. 8 mamamojo June 28, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    PS – Eli IS NOT A GIRL! Long story short, large chunks of the novel were cut significantly to make this film, including the rather detailed backstory on Eli, an the Eastern European peasant, nee ELIAS being castrated as a child and turned into a vampire by a sadistic vampire nobleman. READ THE BOOK if you want clarity on some of the other ambiguous parts of the movie. Also, the old guy met Eli when he was an old guy already. Hakan was a pedophile janitor who was fired from his school job and stayed with Eli because he is forever a child. From the book, it appears that he was always an inept killer (after began killing for Eli. He wasn’t a murderer before). Watch the film again for the dialogue and visual clues about Eli/Elias.

  9. 9 Nastja July 27, 2010 at 3:29 am

    I agree with mamamojo, for clarity read the book. I read it last night and am already reading it again to see if there was anything I missed. Just a few things I wanted to add. I haven’t seen the movie yet and am debating whether or not I want to now that I know it deviates so much.

    The castration of Eli is something that really should have been part of the story, though the pig thing is a little extreme. It adds a lot to the character and contributes to the dark theme of the story.

    Hakan being a pedophile to me was a /very/ important detail. Anything less builds sympathy for him, and he is supposed to be a monster– even becoming one physically. And his attempted rape of Eli makes you hate him even more. He is supposed to be a bad person. You are supposed to hate him.

    Towards the end of the book, there is a kiss in which Oskar sees himself through Eli’s eyes, and I believe the words the author used were “seen with love,” which combined with Eli offering to make him like him pretty much spells out that there /is/ love between them. The impression I got was that Eli was not entirely a monster, though I do concede that he may have been emotionally manipulative.

    All in all, the movie seems to deviate from the book in some extreme ways, I’m not sure how I feel about it… I’ll probably still watch it, but I’m not sure. The book was excellent, though, a must read for anyone who has seen the film.

  10. 10 Kurt August 30, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Glad to see someone else who loves (or has even seen) this movie! I thought it was amazing. I hear some American is probably going to screw it up now in a remake.

  11. 11 John September 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

    “Kurt” – what you mean some American instead of Somebody…….you are correct the original was great but don’t blame “Americans” for one thing, it could have been any body!

  12. 12 sooboo October 4, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    I’ve seen the movie a couple of times but have not read the book. I assumed that Hakan had maybe met Eli the same way that Oskar did and he didn’t want Oskar involved with them in order to save him a similiar fate. But it looks like Hakan sees Oskar as a competitor for Eli’s companionship. Either way it’s creepy as hell. Thanks for the info on this intriguing movie.

  13. 13 metermouse October 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    You have provided a very thoughtful interpretation of the movie. I was actually hoping that the Hakan pedolphile relationship would have been explained more (as well as the Eli/Elias matter).

    You point out that if Hakan were to have been blatantly outed as a pedophile it would’ve destroyed the symmetry between him and Oskar. But I believe that was the point of his character. Eli did not meet him when he was young. He was in a pathetic sort of state. Eli choses him in the book, after witnessing his torment over his uncontrollable pedophilia. I believe she is trying to help him, while at the same time getting help from him; an outcast finding company in an outcast. But she appears to show real and true concern for Hakan, but his character is unhelpable.

    The downside is that while he adores Eli, his desires for her body rule his every thought, and he eventually literally turns into a monster.

    When she meets Oskar, its as if she has met a less flawed outcast. She also feels sorry for Oskar, but it blossoms into a more balanced relationship.

    I understand this would have been hard to add into the film, I do think it is a fuller story, and adds a great deal of depth to Eli’s character. Even so, still love the film.

  14. 14 Trirunner October 12, 2010 at 11:31 am

    After seeing the movie about 2 weeks ago, i decided to get the book. And to tell you guys the truth i did not expect Hakan to be like that, i thought he was just like Oskar but found out in the book that he was not.
    Also while reading, towards the end i thought they had typoes but it ended up that Eli was Elias, which i would’ve prefered to leave Eli as a girl.
    Wish there was more to read, i would like to know what happens after Oskar gets help from Eli

  15. 15 Michael December 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Trirunner: there is a 5-page sequel that’s part of a collection of short stories. Its release date is January 3rd…


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