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.