Let The Right One In: Revamping the Vampire
Since Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” the world has been intrigued and captivated by vampire legends. What elements of the story keep generations coming back for more? Could it be the desire to live forever: frozen in time without worries of growing old or ill? Or the sensually arousing moment when Dracula draws dangerously close to his victim’s neck? It could also be the tragically typical struggle between notions of good versus evil. Yet, no matter what the answer is, the story is constantly adapting and changing to fit the molds of new societies and new people. For example, the Twilight series has taken the teen world by storm and incorporates a new twist on the legend: a young, good-looking vampire with a “vegetarian” attitude. After that, hundreds of writers joined the rush and vampire books popped up like new Starbuck’s in a foreign country. In any case, every writer, director, or artist craves to add something new to the story. One director, Tomas Alfredson, makes monumental changes to the stereotypical vampire and manages to create a fascinating and wonderful adaptation. Furthermore, Alfredson’s film, Let The Right One In, incorporates new factors into the genre and paves the way for a branch of “vampirism” that the world has not yet seen.
In 1897 Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula” and the vampire frenzy began. There is controversy over whether Stoker modeled his Dracula after the historical Dracula, but most evidence points to the fact that Stoker knew his history and was inspired by Vlad the Impaler. Vlad the Impaler is known for his intense displays of dead enemies on stakes, his ruthless personality, and his psychopathic mentality. This is an interesting point, though, because despite the evil that seems to lurk inside Stoker’s Dracula, there is also the sorrow of an outsider. If Stoker modeled his character after the Wallachian prince, did Stoker see through Vlad’s tough outer shell and into the young boy whose family gave him to a foreign country as a consolation prize? It is not clear how Stoker changed a man into a vampire, and even though he is not responsible for the invention of the legend, he did start a cultural phenomenon that does not have an end in sight. After the success of the novel the first film adaptation was made in 1931. Since then, the movie industry has been unstoppable when it comes to vampire films. If vampire movies can continue to attract large audiences, what classic elements exist in all of them that keep people hungry for more?
One important aspect to consider is the human obsession with living forever. It is something that humans have been searching for, yet dreading at the same time, since the introduction of the “fountain of youth.” Stories of the Holy Grail, magical plants, even Harry Potter’s sorcerer’s stone, are evidence that people are enchanted by everlasting life. Even the world’s most famous story, the life and death of Jesus Christ, portrays a man who can grant an existence without death to anyone who seeks him. Vampires are actually similar in the way that they can bite anyone and give them the power to live forever in their current state. There is magic and mystery behind living forever and it captivates, while at the same time scares, audiences.
People are drawn to, but terrified of everlasting life because it means loneliness and singularity. Another element of vampires that relates to people is their sense of being the outcast. Vampires are opposite versions of people because they are immortal, they sleep in the day instead of the night, they feed off of the human race rather than plants and animals, and they cannot be in the sunlight. Anyone who has ever felt alone or estranged can feel some version of how a vampire feels and this is another reason why the vampire legend can last in society. Not to mention, stories of fantasy provide an escape for troubled times. When life gets rough, an easy way to deal with it is to slip into a fantastical world where everyday issues don’t exist. One article on why vampires continue to be popular pointed out “that in this post 9/11 world, people are drawn to conspiracy theories and the idea that an unknown world could exist right before our eyes” (Tressugar.com). Vampire stories and movies allow people to depart from their average lives where they must live with the economy, terrorism, and war. In a way, vampires become the heroes that make people forget worries and leave stress behind.
The second most important aspect of vampires and their popularity is romance and sexuality. Old vampire movies always showed the young beautiful woman lying on a bed with Dracula hovering over her long, white neck. The neck itself, already a very sexual area of the body, gives the vampire story a stimulating twist. In an article titled “A Trend With Teeth” that appeared in the New York Times, one writer commented on the latest vampire uprising, stating, “Rarely have monsters looked so sultry — or so camera-ready. No small part of this latest vampire mania seems to stem from the ethereal cool and youthful sexiness with which the demons are portrayed” (Trend With Teeth 1). This fact is very important. The average literary monster is not attractive and yet, vampires can be sexy and alluring. Rick Owens, a fashion designer, pointed out that “the vampires attraction is all about the titillation of imagining the monsters we could be if we just let ourselves go… we’re all fascinated with devouring, consuming, possessing someone we desire” (Trend With Teeth 1). The victim gives off the sense of being completely helpless and submissive to the vampire while looking seductively passionate.
Now, what does Let The Right One In do differently? Well, it throws sensuality out the window, takes away all glamour from everlasting life, and gives the face of a vampire a whole new look. In fact, the film strips away most stereotypical versions of vampires and takes a fresh perspective. For one thing, the vampire is a child of twelve years old. Recently in television, movies, and books, the vampires have been portrayed as younger, more exciting teens, but the use of a child brings a whole new sense of innocence that has not existed in vampire stories before. Besides the children, the director chooses to use symbols of purity and innocence throughout the movie. The opening scene displays a breathtaking view of clean, white snow. Amidst the blood and violence that takes place the snow is always prominent and it represents wholesomeness despite the traditional view of vampires as being morally corrupt. In one scene, Oskar meets Eli, the vampire, on a playground. They are drawn to each other because they are both outcasts: Eli because she can never be like the average child in many ways and Oskar because he is bullied at school. They are able to form a perfect friendship because they accept and help each other. But another significant factor is that they meet on a playground. Like the symbolism of the snow, the playground also represents innocence. The sexual element of the typical vampire film never comes into play here because the characters are young and untainted. At one point, Eli gets into bed with Oskar and even though she’s not wearing clothes, Oskar simply says, “You’re cold” and goes back to sleep. It is not a sexually charged moment, but rather a sweet and tender one. This lack of sensuality, however, does not detract from the film at all, but it definitely strays from the standard characteristics of vampire films.
Another aspect that is different is that Let The Right One In does not glorify everlasting life or the life of vampires. The film displays the horrific struggles that Eli must go through because she is a vampire. Unlike, for example, the movie Twilight where the vampires are gorgeous, have superhuman reflexes, and generally get to live intensely cool lives, the suffering that Eli feels is evident through her loneliness and need to live off of blood. Her threadbare clothes and dirty apartment are indications of her isolated and afflicted way of life.
Even though the director implements new factors that change the prototypical vampire film, there is no question that these changes build upon and expand the existing genre. Vampires have gone from older, unattractive men, to a sexy, younger crowd, and now to children. The movie is exceptional because it is surprising and out of the ordinary. The movie takes all normal notions of vampires and distorts them by putting them in an innocent child. Vampires have never been associated with purity and wholesomeness, but the director does an amazing job of embedding those qualities to make a new story that has never been seen before. If artists can continue to see vampires in new ways, as the creators of Let The Right One In have, then the legend will live forever, just like vampires.
Ferla, Ruth L. "A Trend With Teeth." New York Times 1 July 2009: 1-2.
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