Let the Right One In has earned acclaim as a vampire film that manages to be original and doesn’t glamorise vampirism. While it’s definitely one of my favourite vamp movies, I want to talk about the incredibly sensitive and empathetic way that it treats childhood.
The film follows Oskar, a troubled boy, and his relationship with vampire Eli. Of course Eli isn’t a child – she tells Oskar that she’s been twelve for a very long time – but then there isn’t much that’s childish about Oskar either. He’s bullied horribly by a group of boys at his school, and fantasises violent revenge scenarios. He also has a fascination with murderers, so when dead bodies start showing up after Eli and her ‘father’ move into his building, he isn’t too distressed.
I love that the film doesn’t pretend that kids are innocent, because that’s not necessarily true. Children are aware of violence and cruelty and injustice, even if they don’t understand it. What I loved was the way that Oskar hid the horrible things he was going through from his divorced parents. I could identify with that because I was bullied horribly when I was at school, but I didn’t tell my mum at the time. She was divorced and had arthritis and we were struggling financially, and I didn’t want her to have anything else to worry about. And then there’s that feeling that no matter what they say, there’s nothing that adults can really do to help in that situation. There’s also this weird thing that you have as a kid (or maybe it’s just me), where you want to maintain the idea in parents’ minds that you actually are innocent because that’s what they want you to be. I remember when I was about ten a teacher at my school killed himself after it was discovered that he’d been molesting kids. I knew about it, but I couldn’t talk to my parents because I’d overheard them saying that they weren’t going to watch the news when I was around because they didn’t want me to know about it. So I pretended I didn’t. I know this is a huge digression, but I really can’t talk enough about how accurate I found the portrayal of Oskar. He has to fight his battles alone, and I think we’ve all wished for a friend like Eli – a child but not a child – to help us.
Though possibly with less carnage.
Oskar and Eli’s friendship is in turns touching and terrifying. His suffering and his violent fantasies mean that Eli’s thirst for blood doesn’t trouble him, and their relationship is at once touching and disturbing. Watching, I couldn’t help but wonder if Eli’s ‘minder’ was once a young boy like Oskar whom she found and loved once. Will Oskar’s fate be the same?
The film doesn’t shy away from addressing how lonely and frightening being a child is, or the fact that children are capable of feeling just as much as adults. Whether Oskar fully understands what he’s getting himself into with Eli is debatable, but ironically, she is the only person who makes him feel safe. There’s something really sad and beautiful about that.