CINEMA: by Len PhillipsNews Weekly
Cold War metaphor encoded in vampire movie
, May 30, 2009
Len Phillips reviews the new Swedish film, Let the Right One In (rated MA 15+, with English subtitles).
We go to movies all the time and never bother you with most of it. Going to movies is our thing. The latest film we've been to would have been added to the list of un-reviewed films except that it has become an extreme version of an odd syndrome that is rampaging through the entertainment industry.
|Oskar (Kare Hedebrant)|
Let me begin with an old observation of mine that people will not passively sit through films to which they morally object, nor will they recommend their friends to go see them either. Whatever else it does, a film must not offend the sensibilities of its audience if it is to ensure that it does have one.
Many people now refuse to go to the cinema because they are tired of having their values trashed. As for the rest of the population, either they are not bothered by what they see, or else, for many more, the values found on screen match their own.
There was a time when good was pretty clearly distinguished from bad, but that was quite long ago. Films in those days generally ended with those who had acted in a more or less conventionally virtuous way coming out in front.
I'm not about to give you a history of the increasing decadence of cinema, nor would I be able to; but what I can do is tell you about the latest manifestation. It is found in a Swedish film under the title, Let the Right One In
In a nutshell, we are introduced to a 12-year-old boy, Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) who is being bullied at school. The bullying consists of being pushed against the lockers and having his nose tweaked. Not pleasant, I am sure, but not the end of the world either.
Where he lives there is a mysterious little girl Eli (Lina Leandersson), also 12, whom he meets and falls madly into his first love for the very sensible reason that she learns to solve a Rubik's Cube puzzle within a day, without ever having seen one before.
Eli is strange in other ways as well, not least of which is that the older man Hakan (Per Ragnar) with whom she is living (I could not tell if he was supposed to be her father) goes around killing people and draining their blood for her to drink.
It turns out that Eli is a vampire. In fact, it also turns out that she is perfectly capable of going after blood on her own without any assistance. She kills first a man who thinks he is coming to her assistance and then someone else who is trying to find out who she is and what she has done.
Oskar after a while also works out who she is and what she does. Is he frightened, disgusted or horrified? Not a bit. In fact, he likes her even more because she teaches him to hit back when he is bullied.
She even tells Oskar that if he does stand up for himself, she will be there to protect him if they ever try to attack him again. And in setting up the Hamlet-like final scene, Oskar does stand up for himself by whacking the bully with a stick that causes him to lose his ear. Quite an escalation, but worse is to come.
We reach the film's climax when, at the local pool, the injured bully's much older brother is holding Oskar's head under water in retribution for what Oskar had done. The entire scene is completely contrived, but allows you first to see, oh so artistically, the older brother's head floating by and then his arm.
Oskar is finally released and comes to the surface in the midst of blood-soaked carnage. The bully, his brother and a couple of their friends are lying around the pool dead and dismembered.
With all of this Oskar is quite content. Sadly for him, his young vampire friend must now go her own way, but they part amicably. We are absolutely meant to find this a satisfying and wholesome finale with justice served and virtue rewarded. The bully got what he deserved and anyone who can learn to do a Rubik's Cube in a day should certainly be allowed to murder and drink the blood of anyone she sees fit.
Now I don't want to make too much of an obscure Swedish film that is hardly making the rounds at the cinemas. But ever since Hannibal Lecter found his way out of detention and into the world at large, in a film where he, an insane psychopath, helps rescue one young girl while personally killing about half a dozen others, we have seen the development of films where the most depraved villains are treated as the avatars of justice.
We all suspend our judgement to some extent watching movies and plays, just as we do with the books we read. I don't imagine that the soft images of a 12-year-old vampire are an actual reflection of what we would accept in real life.
Still, it is somewhat creepy and disturbing that a film in which undeniably kind and blameless people are murdered by a pair of kids is just a night out at the films.
But let me not leave off here. For no apparent reason at all, the film was set during the 1980s in the midst of the Brezhnev era. And I don't mention the former Soviet dictator without good cause. I do so only because the film did, and would every so often even bring up the subject of the Cold War.
So let me offer you an interpretation that has no basis in anything other than that it accounts for small bits of the film in a way that would quite round off the story.
Think of our little vampire as a metaphor for the former Soviet Union and Oskar as a typical intellectual inhabitant of the clueless West. Oskar discovers everything about her, and everything is about as bad as it can possibly be; yet he still wants to be her friend.
You tell me that's not what the film's about! But even if it's not, it should have been.
At least it would help to make sense of a movie in which the heroine is a vicious killing-machine, while the more Oskar knows about who she is and what she does, the more intensely he wants to be her friend.- Len Phillips.