LET THE RIGHT ONE is a Swedish art house film that premieres in the Netherlands at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival. It’s an odd mix of social satire, Gothic fairytale and psychological horror with borrowings from the vampire film heritage. The film tells the tale of young Swedish boy Oscar’s coming of age through his romance with Eli, a dark-skinned vampire girl.
Using a distanced camera, Kubrick-style symmetrical compositions, and barriers in the form of omnipresent boxes, Alfredson shows an oppressive Swedish society. Warmth is sorely lacking in human relations. Family scenes are presented in ”Peanuts” format so that you never see the faces of the parents. Characters turn their backs on each other. Communication unfolds almost exclusively through mediation (the Morse code, the walls). Bureaucratic regulation mechanisms enforce a stifling uniformity. The film’s ghostly polar light, combined with a dirty gray-yellow palette, creates the image of a depressing socialism, lacking any social cohesion.
Trapped in rectangular interiors, people end up literally ”boxed”.
Red accents (seen in human blood or budding flowers) suggest castration anxieties typical for coming-of-age narratives, but also, the attempt of life to drip through the bureaucratic depression that is contemporary Sweden.
In the film’s most grotesque scene, a man watches impotently as the vampire girl attacks his best friend. In the next wide-angle shot, we see him occupying a flat full of cats. Another neglectful slob from the local Swedish tavern causes his girlfriend to commit suicide. An impotent father sits at the table with (what is presumably) his gay partner. Their relationship is so poorly articulated that the son can only stare in bewilderment. Plentiful evidence, readers, that your average Swede ain’t no SUPER TROOPER anymore.
A bachelor’s life in modern socialist Sweden.
But what caused this social quagmire? As always, it runs in the family.
On the one hand, the film blames the demise of traditional society, what the academic theorist would call The Death Of The Father. This is best seen in the figure of the vampire girl’s dad. The poor guy neither performs as a role model, nor is he a good provider. He tries to feed the vampire by killing young men, compulsively repeating the symbolic act of castration; he fails miserably, and the film draws a lot of deadpan humor from the way society’s regulation systems thwart his attempts to find the privacy that would allow him to finish the job.
Conversely, the mothers in the film all seem unable to take over the father’s function. The Swedish boy’s mother is overly concerned about his well-being, preferring to blame her gay husband’s absence for her own shortcomings as a parent. She apparently caused the boy’s excessive feminization, which brings him in conflict with highschool bullies. An episodic female character is presented as the classic witch from ”Hans and Gretel” – she even burns, literally, for being frigid to her partner. The film subtly suggests that the dysfunctional fathers might come as a reaction to hostile mothers.
Having painted a dreary portrait of modern Swedish society, the film tries to offer a queer solution, one that would transcend the limitations of existing social and gender codes. This quest for psychological completeness is neatly symbolized by the appearance of the Rubik cube, with Oscar persistently unable to get an unifying color match.
The queer part of the story begins when Oscar falls in love with Eli. Being from an undefined exotic place – most probably Turkey – she livens up Oscar’s depressing existence in the heavily regulated “European fortress”. But in contrast to equal American productions, Oscar won’t just solve the Rubik puzzle. Instead, he will have to embark on a Siberian train journey into the big white Unknown. Whether he comes out a girl, a boy, or a vampire, remains an open question.