This week I want to talk about interpretation. I don’t know about you, but this is one of the motivations behind my obsessive need for art. Yes, I am one of those people: those who refuse to watch directors’ commentary and those who save the preface and introductions until after I have read a story. Analytical minded, I find formulating my own interpretation to be one of the greatest joys in life. So this week I will be sharing a discussion I had with a friend, a discussion about the movie Let The Right One In: A Swedish film and one I highly recommend. I have not read the novel by John Ajvide Linqvist, but I hope to do so soon, as I hear the tone is much different from the film version.
In any event, storytelling is storytelling, and I love discussing art, in any form, so this week I am going to share my thoughts on the film as well as my friend’s, using conversational format -- I have edited out any personal references from the emails for privacy. For a little background, my friend -- a painter and a graphic artist by trade -- and I have known each other since we were 17 years old, back when I was painting more than I was writing. We share similar artistic inclinations, proclivities, and preferences, so I found it interesting that we would have such a diametrically opposed view. I suppose that is my point this week as well: Every reader should seek their own interpretation of a book. Reviews are nice. The technical critique is helpful, but in the end, a review should rouse interest but never influence. Even if it differs from the Artist's intent, everyone has the right to his or her own interpretation. It is one of the great joys of being human -- our innate ability for thoughtful analysis.
Within the Vampire genre -- of which I am well versed -- this was one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. The plot line is your standard cliché vampire seeks companion fare, so it’s predictable at the onset. The bloodshed is above average, so it’s not for the squeamish, and they kept the vampire trick pony stuff to a minimum, which was appreciated. There is only so much smoke, flame, fangs, and adult sexual enterprise that I can stand. I like a bit more of a Jungian view of this monster, if you will. So, what did actually impress me about the film? Well, it was all about the character depth and the subtle albeit twisted motivations behind the story. Mind you, the two main characters are 12 year olds. So, without further ado, our email discussion:
Cheryl Anne -- Subject: I watched “Let the Right One In” last night ...
I liked it. From a plotting standpoint, it was pretty standard fare, and the end was a little implausible for me.
Now, from a psychological standpoint, it was brilliant. I loved how Oskar and Eli were mirrors to each other. Eli was the instinctual, the feral, and Oskar was the innocence, both the missing part of each other. I like that they kept Eli dirty, very primitive, despite her true age. And Oskar, good lord, could they have picked a better actor for that part. His trembling pouty little lip, his snow-white hair, and I loved that his nose was running all the time, but he had a steely resolve that was frightening, and she had a naive sensitivity about her when she was with him that was unsettling. It was hard to tell who was the dweller at the threshold and who was the angel. That was what was so brilliant. The rest of the film, like I said, standard vampire fare.
I didn’t say the movie was perfect, but I liked the tautness. And I think she was luring and scamming him to be her new caretaker from the moment she got there.
Really??? I didn't get that from Eli at all. I mean, after the demise of her caretaker, it was fairly obvious how the plot was going play out, but, she seemed perfectly capable of taking care of herself. I didn't see the con-job there at all, especially since she left Oskar first. I saw a need for each other, that's all, an innocent need. I think that's what touched me so much. He wasn't even obligated, since he saved her life first, so the retribution by the pool was even-steven. I also liked how they kept the cliché vampire trick pony shit to a minimum. I did like what happened when she went into his apartment and he hadn't asked her to. That's what convinced me it was a sincere bond. She could have died, so both their faith was tested. Good stuff. Your jaded. :)
Ok, I’m sure there is a bit of misogyny, but what I saw was that the fellow we originally regard as her father was, from the start, an emotionally stunted man, whose life, like Oskar's, came to a screeching halt at 12. He clearly ceased his education, his interaction, his growth of any kind when she brought him into her service. The contrast between her berating him for failing to kill for her adequately and her tone with Oskar struck me as nothing so much as bait on a very barbed hook. She clearly divined that the older fellow was outliving his usefulness, becoming a husk from all he had seen and done. When he pleads with her NOT to go "see that other boy tonight" as he goes out to serve her, the callous nature of her refusal to dignify his request struck me. I guess that’s what I saw. Clearly, at her age, she has been through many many concubines, and she chose not to 'turn' him but keep him as a servant. One wonders if Oskar will fair better, I suspect not.
I saw the other "man" -- although he was probably a boy as well when he met her simply because he used the term "other boy" -- as being weak willed, definitely subservient, and a bungler, no less. But I didn't see that in Oskar, and clearly she took a different tone with him. Oskar took that beating with the switch and didn't even flinch. Walked home in his undies in the freezing cold versus putting the urine soaked pants on, challenged her resolve to enter his apartment ... not to mention, he didn't even struggle during the drowning. Impressive. Much much stronger, I saw an older soul in Oskar than I did in the other man. So, I felt if Oskar became anything for her, it was a companion not a lackey. I saw a respect there.
Possibly -- I’m conjecturing on the result of such an isolated life that the other guy led. I disagree that I could see Oskar in the same trap. Personally, I’d tell her to turn me or eat my garlic-laced shit. If she actually liked Oskar, she would be a real companion ... y’know, based on some kind of equality. I might keep a bird or a chicken as a pet, but neither of us would ever forget that at the end of the day it’s just food. And when pets die or get cancer and piss on the rug, too often we euthanize them, like she did to the old man, like, I bet she will do to Oskar. If he was a real emotional kindred she would make him equal, not a pig that cooks pork roll sandwiches.
I love people who make up their own speculative endings. It just kills me. In the end, to me, she was the one who seemed like the little pet: all boxed up, with Oskar scratching gently on the box to comfort her. She might be a bit feral, a scrappy little kitten, but those of us who have been charmed by a wild animal know what it is to sacrifice for them. So, who is to say how it all turned out. We can speculate based on our own personal psychology, and obviously, I imagined something a bit more sentimental and romantic. What can I say? I thought Oskar and Eli complimented each other quite beautifully. I know, I am a sap, and I am hopeless. Feel free to bitch slap me.
ssslllllaaaaaaappp. Check out the director's comments. I guess these vampire as anti-hero movies hit me a little off. I don’t have an emotional connection to my Easter ham, and I sure don’t consider f’ing it, either, but I might be a bit wily luring the pig to the slaughter. Sorry if I’m unromantic and uncool, and yes, I’d do my own killing.
I don't watch director commentary; I prefer to be of my own mind. Now, in this case, Eli was not a butcher standing over her Easter ham. She was the creature that is, not by choice, obviously. Innocence lost, humanity lost. Why wouldn't something like that seek a connection, if it hadn't gone totally feral, which she hadn't? We weren't watching 30 Days of Night, which was a completely different dynamic within the genre. Yes, I would want to do my own killing too, but that is not to say that I couldn't still retain a bit of my own human soul, the bit that could fall in love with the faint echo of what I once was.
If anyone has read the book, I would love to hear comments. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, by all means, find it. It’s worth it.
Cheryl Anne Gardner