Let The Right One In: A Fairy Tale, A Fable
(For my previous October Horror series essay click HERE)
In 2008, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) created one of the most beautiful horror films ever made. The cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema (The Fighter, Dunkirk) is at times subdued and very dark, near chiaroscuro in this film. Greys and blues and whites intermingle with the snow and cold colors of Swedish architecture and skin. The sound score is melodic and somber when applicable, textured when it heightens the emotions of the story, and absent when the image of pure cinema is enough to capture the audiences attention and awe.
Parts Fanny och Alexander (by Sweden’s, and possibly the world’s, greatest filmmaker Ingmar Bergman) and sharing in the fabulist fairy tale worlds Guillermo del Toro’s best work, Låt den rätte komma in tells the story of a young Swedish boy named Oskar in the early 1980s. He is inundated with newspaper headlines of crime and murder and has an intense fascination with collecting the most gruesome reports in his folio. He is small for his age and bullied constantly by a small group of peers. But this is no A Christmas Story. The bullies are sympathetic in that they obviously have terrible lives at home and severe traumas of their own that press them to act out.
In the flat beside Oskar’s and his mother’s apartment, a new family moves in. An old man and a young girl. He never sees the girl during the day and her window is covered constantly. He does meet her at night out in the flat’s quad, populated normally by a jungle gym and Oskar alone. The two bond and become friends as the city experiences larger numbers of disappearances. Eventually, her nocturnal habits and the ever-present smell of blood prompt him toward the conclusion: she is a vampire.
Her ‘father’, Hakan, is a man enamored with the girl. In the book the film was adapted from, he is a pedophile who kills and gathers fresh blood for her surreptitiously and for sickening reasons. As he kills in their new city, he leaves behind a trail of evidence that points an obsessed local in her direction, and toward his own horrendous death. Hakan fails in one of his attempts and is caught. He mutilates himself with acid and later, in the hospital, she finds him and ends his life at his discretion. Draining the blood of the one she called father (who may very well have been a childhood friend turned accomplice like Oskar may become, at least in the film version which leaves open the relationship between Hakan and the girl).
The girl, Eli, is more than two hundred years old, but is trapped in the body of a twelve year old. Throughout the film, we see her struggle against the pangs of hunger for blood and her distaste for killing. She seems to love Oskar, but the whole situation is convoluted as he is a human who will age and die like Hakan, and presumably, others before him. She was not born a she, but is a castrated young man with the outward appearance and sexual preferences of a girl. And she carries a lump of gold that ensures her a vast fortune and her and Oskar a life of wealth, albeit without safety and luxury, in their future.
Although the film can be read in a very pessimistic manner (Oskar is doomed to a life of murder and a bad end just as Hakan), the title and ending of the film I think edges us toward a different conclusion. A vampire must be invited in to a home before entering, but the old tales and stories are curiously quiet on what might occur if they entered a home anyway. The answer here is dramatic and disturbing. Eli asks to come in Oskar’s home, but he is disturbed to find she is a vampire and acts cruelly, refusing to ask her to come in and waving his hand to her to enter in an informal gesture. She enters and her cold life-blood flows from her eyes and ears and pores as she grows more and more emotional. Oskar, in one of the most emotionally compelling scenes of the film, cries out that she is welcome to enter, and her affliction ends. Oskar let the right one in for him and hopefully, in his future, they can find a cure together (she is not dead after all or even living dead, but a real living human being with a terrible curse), and scratch that he can always make the change for her.
At the end of the film, the two are on a train travelling to an undisclosed location. Eli is in a travel box to avoid the light. She taps out “kiss” in morse code (the language Oskar learned and taught her originally so they could speak together through the wall separating their apartments) . He taps back “little kiss.” I’m a little too romantic for my own good in this life, and as such, I’ve put myself into a safe emotional space of constant solitude and bracketed the heart from my world, but this film and films like it, with their call to love when love calls no matter the distance draws me back to a place where love could be the one truth. The one thing creating meaning, however ultimately futile and infantile and idealistic, daring to spit in the face of fate like Deckard on the precipice between life and death in Blade Runner, and creating something rather than merely destroying before I return back to the void that produced me ex nihilo of consequence.
And maybe, just maybe, amor fati has been a mistake all along.
[Catch my final October Horror essay of the year: Salem’s Lot!]