The credits open against a blackened backdrop, our vision lost amidst a vast nothingness as we are invited into falling snow. We are then directed to an apartment complex, its many windows dim except for a few. It seems we are outside peering in, though the reflection of a young boy, his luminous hair a halo, tells us we are inside. A little girl in the back seat of a car can be heard humming as a man, who could be her father, smiles back at her, though his expression quickly slips into solemnity. A resident of the apartment complex stands outside and gazes up at a window being boarded shut, an image of someone looking out permanently trapped between the confines of one world and the emptiness of another.
These are just a few of the images we are met with in Tomas Alfredson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, where the lives of others remain isolated and trapped, where dualities and masks play off each other like snow falling from a tree. When we see Oskar, our aforementioned young boy, it’s through his reflection as he stares out his window, his innocence as blatant as the violent tone in his voice. As we sit in the car seat next to a little girl, we are made to believe that we are observing a moment between father and daughter. However, like the duality between Oskar and his reflection, we are shown a mirage amidst the winter sheen of Sweden, its bleak isolation a living breathing entity all on its own.
When we are further introduced to Oskar, it’s in a classroom as a police officer discusses a murder, giving us a glimpse into the world they exist in. When the officer asks the children a question, it’s Oskar who raises his hand and responds, having read about these sorts of things in books. We never see his face when he answers, though by the look of his classmates, it’s a face that reflects a darker side of our bullied and alienated figure, one that desperately seeks affirmation and love.
It isn’t until the sun goes down do we discover who lives behind the fashion ad pressed up against the window, their arm upright to block out the sun from getting in their eyes (or room). Her name is Eli, and she’s 12 years old, about. She approaches Oskar outside on the cold exterior of the playground, a setting that should evoke warmth and innocence yet lays cast under ice and snow, harboring two children who are far from what they seem. Eli tells Oskar that she can’t be friends with him, her words lingering like a warning rather than a statement. Perhaps they are words of caution, or perhaps they are the pleas of a girl who has been trapped for a lot longer than it might appear, begging for someone or something to take her away.
Eli’s reality is that she’s a vampire, the details unknown to us just as they are to Oskar, who simply sees a strange girl who could possibly take him away from his secluded reality. Both of our characters feel trapped by the confines of the day. Oskar floats between class and recreation with torment and ridicule from three school bullies during his waking hours, while Eli remains confined to a makeshift coffin (a bathtub draped with blankets), her ability to experience daylight impossible. The only time we experience Oskar as an embodiment of joy is when he is whisked away to his father’s home outside of town, a daydream acted out with youthful abandonment that later bares its own fangs when a neighbor stops by for a drink.
As the sun goes down and the world is cast in a different light, Eli and Oskar are able to escape together, even if it is only out to their apartment complex’s playground. What begins to thaw in the cold is a tenderness and fondness towards each other, one that masks the necessity for violence.
When Eli’s caretaker Hakan, arrives home one night having unsuccessfully obtained dinner for her, she harnesses a façade to lure a passerby, who falls victim to her lust for blood. It’s this disguise Eli wears, giving off the impression of being helpless and weak, which radiates throughout the film, as Oskar too appears defenseless in the face of his adversaries. However, it’s an illusion spurred on by the need to survive that creates this isolation within each character.
During a class trip to a lake, a scene plays out between Oskar and the school bullies, in which the teacher warns the children of a hole in the ice, and to steer clear of it. When the bullies advance on Oskar, the dangers of the ice behind him and those of his oppressors in front backing him into a corner, he strips away his own disguise. It’s when he feels like he has nowhere to go that his need to survive, and break free from this urgent feeling of being trapped kicks in and he becomes violent, lashing out with a stick.
Is it these violent tendencies within ourselves that create a sense of isolation, or free us from it?
Later on, having failed to subdue a victim for Eli’s survival, Hakan cowers in the back showers of a school locker room, the victim’s friends breaking the door down after hearing pleas for help. “I’m trapped!” Hakan exclaims, before pouring acid on his face in an attempt to conceal his and Eli’s identity. We never truly discover who he really is, other than a man looking after a vampire. Perhaps he’s trapped himself, living a life fueled by violent necessities in order to keep someone alive; a living breathing fashion ad looking out of Eli’s window for a means to escape a world he has been living for far too long.
His face, now disfigured, becomes a literal representation of the masks our characters wear in order to escape. Hakan is as much a father figure as he is a murderer. Oskar is as much a child as he is a darkly disturbed victim, stabbing at trees in the cover of night. Eli is just as much a 12-year old girl as she is a vampire, her appearance changing throughout our film whenever we inch closer to seeing her true nature. When all three of our victims break free from their isolated worlds, it isn’t through the purity of our world’s snow, but through the red stains that spot theirs. Maybe the necessity for violence is akin to the need for the blanket of night, a mask that is used right until the light of our world casts down and melts away the snow, revealing everything that is beautiful and pure.