Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Viva Hate

with 2 comments

Let The Right One In seems to have been universally well received and I wholeheartedly agree with this. There seem to be differing opinions about why though, and these seem to boil down to how you view the central character. Eli a twelve year old girl but also a substantially older vampire who can be read in several ways. (The book apparently makes clear that she is over 200 years old but I haven’t read it and besides I prefer to compartmentalise adaptation and source material so lets just leave leave it at “old”.)

Jonathan McCalmont has a very interesting post which casts her as a femme fatale. As I said, interesting but I also think profoundly wrongheaded. In contrast I view Eli as essentially passive, active only when she is reactive. It is a rather more conservative and traditional reading, one which puts her firmly in the tragic heroine role, but I do think this is a tragedy.

In many ways the tone is set by her first line of dialogue: “I can’t be your friend.” It is addressed to Oskar, the twelve year old boy who lives next door, and clearly flags her desire for an emotional contact that she believes is impossible. This tentative reaching towards forming a connection with Oskar is the heart of the film and culminates in the scene where – in the face of his mockery – she enters his flat uninvited. It is a moment of great vulnerablity in which she exposes herself to him. To see this all as seduction, as grooming, casts her in role which is alien to her actions.

Even with Håkan, her adult male companion and procurer of blood, I do not see her as being straightforwardly in control of the relationship. It is something more akin to mutual dependency. Even whilst displaying dominance towards him she acts in a childish fashion, he is simply even more passive than her. In essense I do not think she is a old person in a young body but very much much what she says when she is asked: “Twelve. More or less.” She is a child frozen in time. She shows no accumulation of knowledge or experience: she has taken no real steps to ensure a consistent supply of blood (Håkan is either incompetent or, more likely, wants to be caught); when she feeds herself, her killings are messy and heedless; when she becomes too noticeable she simply moves on to the next town.

(I think McCalmont is onto something when he points out that Eli moves straight from
Håkan’s bed to Oskar’s, trading one male for another. However, I think this is to encourage us to see the parallels between the two, not to emphasis Eli’s manipulative nature.)

I do see the ending very much as the fruition of a love story but a poisoned one. Leaving the cinema I felt much the same way as after Eternal Sunshine For The Spotless Mind. Both films offer a final image of hope and fragile happiness but in both cases the audience knows that such hope is entirely illusory as we have already been exposed to the cyclical outcome.

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Written by Martin

16 April 2009 at 22:29

2 Responses

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  1. I think our bone of contention is down to how passive we think Eli is. I don’t, you do.

    I went to see the film in the cinema last night (having previously only seen it on imported DVD) and I was struck by two things I hadn’t really taken on board before.

    Firstly, during the scene in when Oskar cuts his hand and, I think right at the end, you can see Eli suddenly looking a lot older. It only lasts for a split second but it occurs near the time she feeds and I saw it as some kind of mask slipping. The real adult Eli revealing his/herself from beneath the camouflage of a child.

    Secondly, the way the final rescue is carried out. It’s ridiculously bloody AND Eli leaves a witness. What is that about if it isn’t about making sure that Oskar can’t go home?

    Jonathan M

    16 April 2009 at 23:27

  2. 1) Yes, for a second as she looks up from the floor she is clearly older. This happens again later in the film when she is hugging Oskar. (I can’t remember the exact scene, unfortunately.) I don’t see this as the peeling back of a veneer though. There are more primitive parts of our character that we exhibit when we are in emotional heightened situations but whilst these may be part of of our character, they are small parts and not a revelation true character. I think this only adds to the feeling of Eli being tragic and passive: she is not in control of this momentary changes anymore than she is in control of the rest of her life.

    2) I agree that it is ridiculously bloody and I wish the ending had been more plausible in execution. Again though, I see it as the result of a lack of planning rather than a final step in a cunning game plan. Throughout the film Håkan and Eli are both singularly crap at killing. They’ve never set up the sort of sustainable system of murder that would allow Eli to feed in peace, they do it on an ad hoc and easily apprehendible way. Given this it seems unlikely she would be engineer such a scheme.

    I’m also not convinced the scene on the train is meant to make us think he is a runaway. I can easily imagine his mum sending him to the country to relatives (maybe even his father – or did he travel by coach earlier?) to get away from the terrible scene of these traumatic murders which he was obviously lucky to escape himself.

    Martin

    17 April 2009 at 08:33


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