Monday, November 28, 2011

Of Vampyres and Such Others: Please Let The Right One In

The part 1 of the last installment of Stephanie Meyer's "vampire saga" 'Breaking Dawn' was released last week, and this post can come at no better time. I am no crazy vampire aficionado. Like any other lover of literature and  motion pictures, I read Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' for the first time in middle school. Roughly a month ago, I stumbled into Francis Ford Coppola's take on the novel and I felt a strong urge to read the book once again. So I unearthed my worn out Penguin edition (from a time when Penguin books didn't have such fancy covers but was a modest white and orange) and finished reading it within an evening. To be honest, I have read the entire 'Twilight saga' and possess all the four books (In my defence, I say that they were graduation gifts). Yes, in the beginning I too was extremely err... "fond" of Edward Cullen. I went to great lengths to get the movies, but within a month the obsession had died down, and what remained in its place was a massive sense of wonder at one's own level of stupidity, and a scorching anger that can only be directed towards a writer of bad fiction and a maker of bad movies.

Anyway, this post is not about denigrating the Twilight movies or books, although I may drift towards it at times. This post is about another "vampire movie" (to put it cheaply) and a marvelous, heart-rending one at that.

With a brief invocation to 'Nosferatu' (both the 1922 silent era film and Herzog's version ), I plunge into this beautiful film - and possibly the best 'Vampire' film I'll ever see. Let The Right One In is a Swedish film by Thomas Alfredson.  It centres around two twelve years old children, a boy and a girl. Oskar comes from a broken family and is regularly bullied in school. It is in Eli, the vampire, that he discovers the beauty of friendship and the first flush of romance. The film has absolutely no cheesy dialogues ("The lion fell in love with the lamb" and so on). When Oskar discovers that Eli is actually a vampire, he asks her with fright and concern mingled in his voice - "Are you a ... vampire"? Unlike Edward, Eli doesn't rant ("Say it, say it out loud"). Unlike the entire gamut of vampires in the Twilight saga, who are either preying beasts with the gift of speech or expressionless pasty-faced moving zombies with avowed interest in animal blood, Eli cries every time she preys. The scene when her guardian finally offers her his own neck, and she sinks her teeth helplessly, striven by hunger, is a masterpiece. Later, she would enter Oskar's room and spend the night beside him, knowing that she has devoured the only family she had and is beside the only person she cares about in the world.

However, there is yet another reason why I was able to identify with Alfredson. The director has himself acknowledged that he is not very well conversed with the conventions of vampiric lore, and has gone beyond them to creat this masterpiece. As a layman on the genre myself, this struck a chord. Of course he couldn't do away with the obvious sagas. Hence Eli sleeps in her bathtub in the daytime, covered, and avoids the sunlight, which according to vampiric lore, burns a vampire. (I cannot help but go back to Meyer's ridiculous twisting of the myth by making her vampires sparkle - ha! - in sunlight. How convenient!) Again, Eli tells Oskar that she has to be invited into a new place. When Oskar refuses to do that and tells her to just come in, blood spurts from Eli's face and Oskar goes back to his words. The pristine white of the snow that predominates the Swedish landscape offers a chilling contrast to the blood and gore that undercurrents the theme of the movie. The acting of the two children (Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli) is beyond belief, especially if you have been tortured by the Twilight acting. Yes, it is undoubtedly very different from Klaus Kinsky's or Max Schreck's Count, and the primary reason is, while the viewer fears the Count, (s)he pities Eli. The last scene when Eli, inside a box for safe-keeping against daylight, taps "kiss" in Morse code and Oskar taps back, is  massively sweet and innocent.

This is not a review by any means. But I'm glad I watched the movie and I would love to read the book from which it has been adapted. I can now pretend that I leaped from Bram Stoker to Murnau/Herzog to child-vampire saga with no trace of the Twilight taint.

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