Blood, Lust

Let the Right One In (2008)
Dir. Tomas Alfredson
Starring Kåre Hedebrant (Oskar), Lina Leandersson (Eli), Per Ragnar (Håkan)

Thursday night’s film was “Let the Right One In”, one of my absolute favourite films of 2008, and a way, way better vampire movie than that “Twilight” nonsense that’s so popular these days. Forgive my cynicism, I’m just not at all a fan of Stephanie Meyer.

The plot of “Let the Right One In” is actually similar to the plot of “Twilight” in many ways. A young boy named Oskar, the child of divorced parents, a victim of bullying at school, and a generally quiet and odd fellow with a certain morbidity about him, meets a young girl named Eli, who has just moved into the apartment complex where Oskar lives with his mother. Oskar finds the mysterious Eli (who is only ever seen at night, and often with her adult guardian/caretaker) alluring, and the two quickly become friends. As their relationship evolves, it becomes clear that Eli is, in fact, a vampire, and following the death of Håkan, her guardian, she is vulnerable and in need of someone to help her obtain the blood that she needs to survive.

Thursday’s lecture tackled the issue of teenage sexuality, and it is no coincidence that a vampire film accompanied it. Vampires, particularly modern ones, are often represented as exuding a kind of raw, incredibly powerful sexuality, embuing them with a supernatural allure that allows them to seduce their victims. Male vampires are generally depicted as being well-dressed gentlemen, pale-skinned and handsome and, above all, youthful. Female vampires have an unearthly beauty about them, and are extremely seductive (more like succubi, really) and sexy. As the lecture mentioned, the vampire woman is not nearly as common as the vampire man, and vampire tales often involve the vampire man stalking female victims. This could be because of the traditional notion that women are more “pure” than men, who are frequently seen as predators. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics on rapes (as of 1999), 91% of rape victims are female while only 9% are male, and 99% of rapists are men. These statistics go a long way towards explaining why men are almost always the villains in horror movies, which makes the subverted gender dynamic in “Let the Right One In” all the more interesting.

But before I get to the film, I’d like to further expound on some of the connections between vampires and sexuality. According to the book “The Vampire: A Casebook” (edited by Alan Dundes), in Eastern Europe as early as the 1800s, vampires were frequently used as excuses for illicit love affairs. A woman’s extra-marital lover could disguise himself as a “vampire” and have his way with her, excusing them both for the adultery by blaming the supernatural being. The book also draws connections between the oral eroticism of a vampire sucking the blood of its victim and the exchange of bodily fluids that occurs during oral sex. Connections are even drawn between the vagina dentata of urban legend (more recently made famous in the film “Teeth”) and vampirism, as both can be seen as sex-specific fears regarding sexuality: women are scared of seduction and sex leading to their death, whereas men might see the vagina dentata as the “maternal teeth threatening to bite off their manhood”.

Which brings me to “Let the Right One In”. The film subverts two of the major tropes of vampire films, which I have discussed above: the vampire in this case is female, and because Oskar is only 12 years old, almost all eroticism and sexuality is removed from the relationship that he forms with Eli. This isn’t to say that Oskar doesn’t find himself attract to Eli – he is definitely attracted to her. However, it seems as though he doesn’t know what to make of the feelings he’s experiencing. Eli puts Oskar in touch with a sort of primal instinct, a basic urge to be with the opposite sex that Oskar doesn’t know how to interpret, being only just on the cusp of puberty. There is some debate over what Eli’s intentions are with this sort of underage seduction – is she training Oskar to be the next Håkan? Or has a genuine friendship formed between Oskar and Eli? Ultimately, it is left up to the viewer to decide.

There is one shot in the film that I find particularly noteworthy as far as discussing sexuality and vampirism: a single, brief image of Eli’s mutilated genitalia. According to the novel that the film was based on, Eli was, in fact, a boy, and the mutilated genitalia seen by Oskar is the result of Eli’s castration, which was part of the ritual in which Eli became a vampire. This explanation is missing from the final film, though, and it is left up to the viewer to interpret Eli’s lack of genitalia. IMDb offers the following explanation: “What was that shot of Eli’s crotch about? To demonstrate that Eli lacks either a penis or a vagina and is not a biological female; “she” is actually a castrated boy.” Much like the age of the protagonists, Eli’s lack of genitalia removes an element of the sexuality associated with vampires.

Would you like me anyway?

Would you like me anyway?

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~ by sosayeththewatcher on June 24, 2009.

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