Friday, February 13, 2015

My Essay on Let the Right One In and Let Me In

Be Me A Little
            John Ajvide Lindqvist's debut novel, Låt Den Rätte Komma In, was released in 2004 in Sweden, with an English translation arriving in 2007. 2008 saw the premiere of Tomas Alfredson's Swedish film which will henceforth be known as Let the Right One In or LTROI, and the American adaptation Let Me In or LMI debuted in 2010, directed by Matt Reeves. While LMI pays homage aesthetically to LTROI, it is not a remake and is instead a separate - if similar - retelling of the novel. Reeves's version goes so far as to adapt to the changed setting and rename the leads the Americanized Owen and Abby, rather than Oskar and Eli. Though the films have a common runtime of one hour and fifty-five minutes, each makes its own alterations to the world set down in Lindqvist's story, while winnowing away multiple subplots that the Swedish picture does touch upon without further exploration.
            Major variances between the adaptations are apparent in the introductory scenes. Alfredson opens his movie with credits amongst falling snow, followed by main character Oskar imagining taking revenge on his tormentors, and the novel's first occurrence of Oskar's class being taught by a police officer appears five minutes into the proceedings, albeit about a different subject. Reeves begins his film with a scene from the middle of the consequent action, now set in New Mexico, with a character known only as The Policeman inspecting the circumstances behind a man burning his own face with acid. As the officer arrives at the hospital, the burned man later revealed as the vampire's familiar throws himself from his window.
            This is where the biggest deviation from the novel occurs, as neither movie deals with the character after his apparent demise. Lindqvist's iteration reanimates due to his vampiric bite, yet is only a zombified husk, incapable of coherent thought, roaming the nearby neighborhoods in the nude. This dovetails with the earlier police officer lesson and an entire other subplot about Oskar's neighbor and friend Tommy, whose only nod in the movies comes in the form of him having shown Oskar/Owen where the basement rec room is.
            The characterization of the burned man is unique to each version. In the novel and presumably in the first movie, Eli's assistant is a man called Håkan, a pedophile recruited as familiar in exchange for the promise of touches. Let Me In takes a hugely different approach to the character, now known only as The Father. Owen discovers pictures in Abby's apartment taken of her and her helper when he was a child, identifiable by a facial birthmark. This leaves the audience to wonder if Owen will suffer the same fate, growing old and worn down beside Abby out of a fierce dedication formed in his youth.
            LMI places a lot more of the focus on Owen and putting viewers in his position, creating a more streamlined story than that of the prior incarnations. Orbiting characters are seen as he interprets them. While Oskar visits his alcoholic father in LTROI, Owen's dad is only ever heard during a phone call and he is never seen. Similarly, Owen's mother is perpetually half-hidden or shown from the side, providing a stark contrast to Oskar joyously brushing his teeth and dancing with his over-worked yet still loving mom. Abby's caretaker is deemed "The Father" because that is what Owen initially believes him to be, and "The Policeman" never receives an actual name because Owen does not know or remember it.
            Lindqvist's novel and both adaptations deal heavily with ideas of identity in differing manners. Partway through the book, Eli shows Oskar her past, revealing to him that she was once a boy named Elias. They are able to share a psychic connection, something hinted at with the line in the film in which Eli tells Oskar to "be me a little". From that point, the Swedish-language edition uses gender neutral pronouns to describe Eli. English translations, lacking that neutrality, alternate between masculine and feminine pronouns. In LTROI, Oskar and the audience see a glimpse of a nude Eli as they change clothes and know that he/she is effectively genderless.
            LMI excises questions of gender and replaces that theme with the use of masks. The Father wears a garbage bag mask when he goes out to kill people, while his Swedish counterpart does not. Owen spies on the neighbors while wearing a clear face-shaped mask and Abby's transformation during feeding is far more inhuman than that of Eli. In effect, Abby's outward humanity is the mask, as she contorts and transforms when confronted with blood in ways that would be physically impossible for humans. In both films, Eli/Abby asks Oskar/Owen, "Would you still like me even if I wasn't a girl?" Eli wants Oskar to accept them without a gender, as Abby wants Owen to want her even though she is a monster. Abby is clearly female, long legs and long, blonde hair exposed, while Eli has shorter, darker hair and almost always wears pants.
            In the penultimate scene of each film, a different bit of the vampire is shown. Oskar sees Eli's eyes after he is saved, and they look natural and blue-green instead of abnormal due to the colored grayish contacts the actress has worn throughout. Owen sees Abby's face after she rescues him, yet the audience only views her bloodied feet. Like his parents, she is now something else to him, something not quite within reach.
            Also disparate between the films are the torments of Oskar or Owen's fellow students. He is physically and verbally abused in both cases, yet the insults reflect the prevailing attitudes of each country and of the 1980s setting. Oskar is repeatedly called a "pig" and lead jerk Conny yells at him to squeal, implying that laziness and obesity are the primary undesirable traits in the boy, though Oskar does not echo either quality. Owen's bullies refer to him as a "little girl", enforcing the Westernized belief that femininity is a sign of deep weakness.
            Consequently, when Oskar or Owen enacts the revenge they want to inflict upon the bullies, each uses the insult he has received. Intriguingly, though Owen's bullies are more physically brutal, it is Oskar who seems to be more dangerous in vengeance. The first time Oskar is seen, he is stabbing a tree in his apartment building's courtyard with a sizeable hunting knife. Owen is introduced as a bored kid sitting outside eating Now & Later candies until he is beckoned for a distant dinner with his mom and a phone call of rejection from his dad. Owen is immediately played as the neglected, not the violent. It is only by chance that he has a knife at all, as he sees a thin pocket knife while purchasing candy and buys it on a whim, meeting Abby as he takes to tree-stabbing for the first time. The knife leaves the Let the Right One In plot for a while before becoming important in a pivotal scene near the end, while the weapon itself only recurs during an ineffective bully-repelling attempt in Let Me In.
            LTROI is more faithful to Lindqvist's novel than its American counterpart, and supporting characterizations follow accordingly. In Oskar's town of Blackeberg lives a group of six middle-aged friends who spend their days drinking together. Eli's first onscreen victim is one of these six, a man named Jocke she murders for blood. Two in the group are sometimes a couple - Lacke and Virginia - and Lacke suspects sinister circumstances after Jocke goes missing and he sees a puddle of blood in the snow. While members of the group walk home one night, Eli makes the fatal error of attacking Virginia and accidentally turning her instead of killing her. Lacke now knows the identity of the killer and is even more motivated to destroy her after Virginia purposely ends her own vampiric life.
            Oskar knows Eli is sleeping in the bathroom of her apartment during the day, so when he knows a man is coming for her, he heads to her aid. Unbeknownst to Oskar, this is Lacke and he begins to uncover the bathroom window to look into the tub and stab Eli in revenge. Oskar watches this and begins to approach Lacke from behind, wielding his hunting knife with clear intent to stab the man if necessary, though Eli rises from her slumber and massacres Lacke before Oskar makes a move. He turns from the doorway, yet does not close the door to hide the sight.
            Virginia and her company are entirely different characters in LMI, and Abby's first viewed kill is not related to those people at all. While LTROI Virginia lives in government subsidized housing near Oskar, LMI Virginia lives in Owen's apartment complex because it is typically younger Americans that live in cheaper housing, not their elders as in Stockholm. Furthermore, a youthful Virginia allows Owen moments of voyeurism, connecting his character more directly and closely to those supporting characters than Oskar was to his. This Virginia is still attacked and turned by Abby, yet her vain boyfriend does not appear after her death.
            Let Me In has a character absent from the other versions in the Policeman. He is searching the apartment complex for suspects after becoming entangled with the death of The Father and enters Abby's apartment to investigate, gun in hand as a precaution. As in the Swedish movie, Abby is sleeping in a bathtub, yet the Policeman is not there to hurt her as Lacke desired to eradicate Eli. Owen had fallen asleep in Abby's apartment and awoken to the cop's knocking. He initially hides, then pursues the Policeman and attempts to stop him from reaching Abby, yelling out after the Policeman moves the covering off the bathroom window and burns her leg. The two men make eye contact as Abby kills the officer and Owen closes the door to the Policeman's outstretched hand. Owen has far better intentions and he feels more guilt than Oskar, while Abby is more vicious and calculating than the desperate-seeming Eli.
            The finale is where the two films truly define themselves as unique entities, yet it is in a relatively subdued manner. Eli and Abby mention that they can fly between the apartments on the outside of their respective buildings and a character near the end of the book comments that they saw "an angel". Both vampires have superior jumping and climbing skills; however, only Abby literally flies. Eli appears in the school as well, yet her wrath is kept to the ground and in the novel one of the reluctant bully boys actually invites her inside. In the film, one boy is untouched and is left crying nearby.
            Just before Abby appears at Owen's window after killing the Father, faint wing beats can be heard, yet she is not seen approaching the glass in any manner so it is left vague as to how she arrived there. In the climax, Owen's bullies and one's older brother torment him in the school's pool, holding his head beneath the surface. Sound is warped as it is heard from Owen's underwater point-of-view, but there are undeniable noises of wings flapping. The bullies trying to drown Owen are killed after being dragged through the water, while Abby never touches the ground or the pool. She alights in front of Owen as he gasps for air at the water's edge and the carnage is shown in an overhead shot revealing gore on the diving board, as though she dropped someone onto it. It is then shown that a window in the ceiling has been shattered and Abby entered that way.
            Let Me In portrays its vampire as an angel of death, protective of her best and only friend, with flowing golden hair, an aura of innocence even in her misdeeds, and hidden wings. Eli is further ambiguous, with an underlying idea that she is ancient and damaged because of it, both physically and emotionally. Occasionally, her face reveals this age, but otherwise she is typically more child-like in her behavior and more helpless than Abby.

            Let the Right One In and Let Me In are ultimately about the consequences of alienation, with Oskar/Owen ostracized for being an unusual boy and Eli/Abby being forced outside of society due to their vampiric nature. Yet while LTROI mainly explores the issues of gender and attraction, LMI runs with the ideas of masks and namelessness, the lure and pressures of anonymity. Both films are competent and focused retellings of a tome of a novel, as they are distinct and vastly singular in their handling of the characters and thus the purposes of telling the story of a young boy and his vampire best friend.

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