To some degree the portrait of a vampire is an examination of human loneliness. What are Carmilla or Count Dracula, but beings who have lived out of time. The vampire take life to live without time and because of this, along with a host of religious, sexual, and cultural mores, the supernatural figure is as much an exploration of what it means to live like God as anything. What’s astonishing is the power of the creature is not so much its own mystical powers as it is belief, meaning the character who must face these creatures lack of belief in the existence of beings who defy death. And thus, the vampire is a lonely god, who has great power, but no living connections to share an eternity of isolation. This loneliness is the crux of Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, a film that explores the relationship between a vampire child, Eli (Lina Leandersson), and a young loner, Oscar (Kåre Hedebrant). The film is about both childhood and adult fears. Childhood fears are perhaps the most memorable aspects of our experience because of our underdeveloped sense of the world, children understand their environment through a kind of sensory overload which makes illogical fears and terror more potent. The movie explores Oscar’s struggle with being bullied, his isolation in the snowy apartment building where his mother lives and the long distance relationship with his father, whose presence is fleeting. Eli moves in next door with her watcher Håkan (Per Ragnar), whose job it to murder victims in order to feed his adopted daughter.
Oskar is a waifish boy, quiet and easy fodder for bullies. Oskar meets Eli at the entrance of the apartment building in which she’s just moved. Fed up being bullied, Oskar mimics how he would brutalize the boys that bully him, using a knife blade to menace them. Their meeting while amounting to a typical playground meeting, hints at the violence that’s at the heart of childhood. Adolescence is a place where boundaries are formed and trespassed, a place where domestic tranquility is eschewed for the chaos of experience. What the movie amounts to is a dissection of the domestic versus the wayward, peripatetic life. Viewing Eli’s life, Oskar longs to domesticate her, introducing her into the childhood that he’s trapped in himself. Hence, the typical vampire’s inability to cross a threshold, one that owed its origins as much to the idea of despoiling a matrimonial bed as much as the woman who would welcome in a demon lover, here becomes a display of the debilitating effect of domesticity. Oskar tells Eli to come in, ignoring the rule that she cannot entire without an invitation. Blood pours down Eli’s face and Oskar in a panic invites her into the house.
Oskar comes to understand that falling in love with Eli means not just a denunciation of the living, but leaving a settled life in general. Perhaps the strangest scene in the movie is one of Eli’s victims who is slowly changing into a vampire herself. She visits a friend’s house whose cats go crazy, attacking her immediately. The cats, usually docile, suddenly become predatory and far from the complacent domesticated animal suddenly grow animalistic, a heady symbol for the inability of the woman to live a normal life. The end of the movie offers us an ostensible happy ending. Oskar, being attacked by bullies, is saved by Eli, who murders the lead bully by dismembering him. Next we see Oskar riding on a train, leaving the city. Outside it is a sunny day and Oskar smiles as he knocks on a wooden box and gets back a knock in response.
The happy ending however has dark consequences. Oskar abandons his mother for Eli. Leaving her to wonder what happened to him, Oskar becomes like Håkan, Eli’s handler at the beginning of the movie. This leaves the viewer to wonder if Håkan similarly fell in love with Eli as a child. Will Oskar murder people to help feed Eli? The idea is understated, but the ‘happy ending’ is underpinned with the idea of the dark deeds that Oskar will have to perform to help Eli survive. While Oskar is living, he ostensibly gives up his entire life without the ability fully understand what that sacrifice means to himself and those that love him. If Eli can be viewed as evil it is through this prism of having lived a life and yet taking advantage of a child who doesn’t fully understand the life he’s given up. Let The Right One In is a title that is enigmatic, offering both a reading of the popular vampire myth of inviting a member of the undead inside a house, but also inviting someone into your heart. Both of these readings are a type of intrusion, however, the vampire is not meant to move beyond the threshold of the house. Eli’s encroachment means that Oskar must make a choice to join her outside the structure of domestic living and in doing, similar to Eli giving up her biological life, sacrifices his own life.