Thursday, April 23, 2009

love: when loneliness is shared

shirley and i went to the movies last night and saw, let the right one in.

what follows are some wonderings in the aftermath...(no plot spoilers, but *lots* of thematic ones)

shirley and i both loved it. it really is as good as they said it'd be. and it left one with so many questions... questions about untold stories within the story... the title alone is open to layers of interpretation, full of ambiguity, and the ending is an almost perfect "..."

was it scary? yes. is it horror? yes. but not gratutiously so. a great deal is left to the imagination. i was ready to cover my eyes numerous times but i think only once did i actually look away. i struggle with gore, but this is not a slasher film. the violence is portrayed and concealed in some clever ways. the scariest moment was for me not even a moment of violence but downright creepy in the way the ending of the japanese horror movie, ring is creepy, or the monster with eyes in his hands in pan's labyrinth is creepy. nightmarish.
funny? yes. in a way that the horror genre often is. and poignantly sad and beautiful without ever descending into mawkishness or melodrama.
this is perhaps one of the most restrained horror films i've seen. it's a dark, DARK, fairytale. it's a children's story made for adults and filmed very much from a child's perspective.

for me, science fiction and fantasy at their best are deep with metaphor, pushing at the edges of reality so as to make comment on what we call 'normality'. when the everyday meets the fantastical we have to question how we would react if we were in the same circumstance but we've been unhoused in order to be provoked. something is put off kilter. the line between the real and the unreal messed with.
the vampire myth is in large part about the psychosexual, where sex meets death, sex being equated with both violence and a life force, hunger, and not being able to have what you want without someone else paying a price. but where the vampire myth deals with what we do with our perverse desire, this takes a totally different route...

so we find themes of difference... of love... innocence... what it is to be a child... cruelty and manipulation... aging... need... love without sex... and a fascinating provocation about gender ambiguity... not for a second do i mean that to not 'fit' the assumed heteronormative is to be equated to being a vampire, ie to be not-human, or a monster. this film somehow managed to deftly avoid such an equation, while at the same time placing gender ambiguity as absolutely central to the story, as is the companion theme of being an outsider, overlooked or bullied by society, of being excluded and to experience deep loneliness, of wanting to be something other than a victim, of wanting to love and be be invited let someone else in...of not being able to change who you are...

there is something very challenging about how we confuse sex with love and needing to sexually fit in order to experience love and partnership. that the characters are pre-pubescent (or right on the cusp) allows this to be exposed. sex for them is something apart, distant, not yet... if anything sex is something to be feared, for it is both unknown, and will get in the way of love... and one wonders where there story will go after the credits roll... that tragedy is yet to strike... that what they share is potentially impossible... because it's going to get complicated and upsetting the moment full sexual desire kicks in... love will inevitably turn to perversion...

it is therefore ironic in an unsettling way that the movie was preceded by an advert for a sparkling orange drink. it featured two dolls in a very basic stop motion animation - think action man and barbie - they are in the act of foreplay. they touch and kiss. but when the towel the male doll is wearing drops, barbie is horrified to find he lacks genitals. they lie side by side in bed, her on her side away from him, him on his back. the tagline appears...

some bits are crucial.

now i get it. this soft drink prides itself on having orangey bits in it. we were meant to laugh and think, oh, yes, that's clever. but instead, shirley and myself both turned quizzically and said, "What the...?" imagine they were not dolls but real people... and the film proved to be a welcome (albeit inadvertant) response...

what bits are crucial...? what bits of you are the ones that love another? is innocent love without sex an impossibility? a fantasy? what is it that is lost when we grow up? none of this is answered, but is provoked... when we love someone and want them to be our most special of friends, what are we looking for? what is it that is being shared? loneliness perhaps. and what does true love (if such a thing exists) overlook or accept?

if wikipedia is anything to go by, the novel from which the film is adapted, seems to have been very different, or at least, more definitive, more complex than the screenplay (written by the author himself), which left aspects wide open to audience interpretation. now knowing the back story from the novel puts a completely new spin on certain characters and scenes. but it says something about the difference in translating a novel to film - they are entirely different mediums. i can't decide if i want to read it or not. there's an american remake of the book about to get underway(rather than a remake of the film - which i take to mean the screenplay will be different) and one can only imagine it'll be a very different take on the story.

the film is beautifully shot. at times it is almost like a graphic novel - the camera held steady, frozen. the lighting is incredibly used to great effect. brilliantly original. standing in an empty train station after the movie was downright creepy. it is the use of electric light against snow and concrete as much as the darkness that is unsettling. the score is beautiful too.
but the real beauty is down to the lead actors who give seemingly effortless embodiment of their characters and show a subtlety that most adult actors would love to achieve.

and at the centre of the film is a scene of such quiet beauty, both visually and in terms of the script, that i found myself choking back tears at the vulnerability and acceptance it expressed in both the central characters. one of those moments when you know this is the scene on which everything else hangs. i found myself making associations with moments in both boys don't cry and don't look now. of showing what physical and unapologetic, emotional tenderness looks like.

if there's a lasting question embodied in these characters, it is perhaps, what is it to love despite difference? what is it to accept another as they are? this is a love story about two children who are in different ways vulnerable and lonely. and perhaps that's what makes this horror tale so compelling, that neither of them attempt to conceal their outsiderness from the other. they are different from others and from each other. and they love anyway. is innocence lost the moment we dehumanise the other? when we push the other away because they are different, because there are things they don't want us to see in them, when we reject...? how do we accept someone who feels rejectable?

the vampire gore of this film is not the real horror of this story. the violence is part of the package. that might be problematic on one level, but beyond the blood, this beautifully captures the enduring power of the vampire-mortal love myth and does something really fresh with it. it gives us two characters who draw compassion from the viewer and reminds us that it is a tragedy to be trapped in eternity without growing old. we fear death, but to not have death is not a gift, but a kind of hell.

what bits of me are crucial to who i am? to make me worthy of your love? to make me human? how often is the unspoken subtext of human relationship, if you knew who i really am, would you love me anyway? will you share this loneliness with me?

the innocent love in us ignores the in-spite-of, and says, yes. in that moment love is more powerful than death, and sex. and such love is therefore horrifically, tragically and yet still beautifully blind... it ignores difference, the external body and even the fear of death, and defiantly says,

i know. but can we go steady anyway?

which reminds me of this line from neil gaiman.

right, back to packing boxes i go.


note: the version released on dvd in the usa does not feature the original theatrical (english) subtitles. apparently a new version is going to be brought out following complaints at the simplified and inferior translation.


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  2. great cary. i say 'yay!' to the above! and i'm so glad you mentioned the crap ad for the orange drink (which i might complain about at some point). i thought of it as i drove home. that most poignant scene in the film (you know the one) was, as you said, almost really the exact opposite message, beautifully so.

    (i removed the first post as i realised you'd said the remake is going to be of the book, and not the movie. uh, good. my point had been something about why on earth anyone would want to even attempt to remake that film...)

  3. :) yep. it was an amazingly appropriate contrast to that ad.

    i'm thinking, the crucial bit is the heart. that's what makes love. or as red house painters put it in Medicine Bottle,

    love is found
    on the inside
    not the outside

    i'm only just realising how provocative a metaphor for the psychotherapeutic was contained in the, "what happens if i don't invite you in?" scene...

    that works so beautifully and challenges what we do with our boundaries. or as jonny would say, it works on several levels.

  4. ewan sent me to the onion's av club for their book v film review. i will NOT be reading the book. it sounds absolutely horrific and had the film contained some of the themes, let alone scenes, it would never have made it past the censors. some of the descriptions were hideous. i don't recommend even reading that review.

    there are some massive differences in plot, characterisation, and tone.
    sounds very much like the film is waaaay more palatable and emotionally focussed. the book just sounds hideous and gross and definately not life affirming.

  5. goodness! thanks for the tip off!!