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Let the Right One In: Exclusion and Isolation within Outsider Status

Posted by on Wednesday, March 30, 2016 in Blog posts.

Let the Right One In, a Swedish film released in October 2008, is a major addition to the repertoire of vampire lore that Bram Stoker started in 1897 with his novel Dracula. The film is based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel with the same title and directed by Tomas Alfredson. Lindqvist sets the story in a Swedish winter of 1982 – more specifically in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg which also happens to be where he grew up. From the film’s opening, we are led into the rather unusual friendship and romance that develops between Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a lonely and bullied 12 year old, and Eli (Lina Leanderson), a mysterious girl who happens to be a vampire forever stuck at the age of 12. However, this is more than just a teen romance story. Let the Right One In explores the exclusion and isolation associated with outsider status, and how this can be overcome through empathy and mutual support, a motif that transcends the limits of age and genre.

For the lovers of vampire folklore, the film does not disappoint, as it retains many features of “fang” mythology, albeit dispensing others. For instance, there are no wooden stakes, crosses, garlic, mirrors or even visible fangs. However, the film underscores features such as unusual body odor, scorching in the sun, superhuman strength, resistance to low temperatures, obsession with puzzles, and the necessity of an invitation for vampires to enter a dwelling (hence the title). Eli demonstrates one such feature through her prowess with the Rubik’s cube, and another in how she bleeds from every orifice in her body upon entering Oskar’s house without an invitation. Yet, these two features depict Eli essentially an outsider who desires to be understood and “invited in.”

As a vampire, Eli is excluded and isolated from the wider human and social network. Accompanied by her father figure, Hakan, she moves into the Stockholm suburbs as Oskar’s mysterious next door neighbor. She doesn’t go to school and only comes out at night to join Oskar at the jungle gym. Moreover, she has no friends except Oskar, with whom it takes time and trust for her to finally open up to and share her deepest and darkest secret with – she lives off human blood. Towards the end of the film, she asks Oskar to touch an enormous Faberge-style egg which then shatters into numerous tiny pieces, revealing a treasure trove of hidden jewelry. It is within reason to assume that this simple act could represent Eli finally shading off her outsider status to Oskar and inviting his support and empathy.

Eli’s appeal for empathy is strongest when she enters Oskar’s house without an invitation and begins to bleed. When Oskar embraces her and asks her what she is, she says, “Just like you”. Oskar rejects her response by stating that he doesn’t kill people to which she replies, “But you’d like to if you could, to get revenge. I do it because I have to.” She then begs him, “Be me a little.” It is inarguable that killing people is wrong and cannot condoned under any circumstances; however, we cannot help but sympathize with Eli’s situation as she is simply trying to survive.  Hers is a call to avoid being quick to judge and instead put ourselves in the lives of the people with whom we think we share little in common, the outsiders in our lives.

Let the Right One In also reveals the ugliness of bullying, a practice often directed at outsiders and still prevalent in schools. In fact, there is a sixty percent bullying rate among middle school students in the United States. Also explored are the psychological impacts of divorce and negligence to a child; Oskar’s resolves to solitude and violence as neither of his estranged parents pay attention to his life at school or at home. Oskar’s life demonstrates how society creates outsiders through negligence, discrimination and prejudice.

Jack Thorne translated the same novel in his stage adaptation of Let the Right One In, which was commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland. Director John Tiffany shifts the setting from the Stockholm suburbs to a stark Scottish housing estate. Despite the differences in location, both settings work tremendously by exploiting the contrast created by the bright white winter snow and the dark buildings and tree trunks to create a sense of foreboding that is central to the story. Both Alfredson and Tiffany stay as loyal as possible to the novel, albeit with some deviations. However, both the film and the play tell a similar story of a lonely and isolated girl, and her emotional counterpart, a boy who is as equally a victim of social stigmatization and psychological rejection. Through their friendship, they develop a sense of belonging to one another and their outsider status no longer seems to matter as they take the train together into the unknown.

While studies have made it clear that theatre and film are stronger rivals than partners, the productions of Let the Right One In both on the stage and the screen reinforce our understanding of the subject matter. The outsider status resonates not only with Eli and Oskar but also with Muslims all over the world fighting the label of terrorism, black people in America protesting against systemic racism, and immigrants struggling to fit into the new cultures of their host countries. Eli’s plea, “Be me a little”, challenges us to take a moment and put ourselves in the shoes of these “outsiders” – to replace stereotypes with empathy.


5 Comments on “Let the Right One In: Exclusion and Isolation within Outsider Status”

This blog piece touches on many themes portrayed throughout Let the Right One In, including neglect and it’s psychological impacts on adolescents. Society consists of an interconnected network of beings, constantly in contact and interacting with each other. Similar to Newton’s law stating that every force has an equal and opposite reaction, humans’ actions leave impressions on the world and others. This play introduces, Oskar, a young boy who has been so clearly molded by nurture, or lack thereof, rather than nature. As a result of his negligent parenting, Oskar is left starving for love, validation, and attention, which guides his actions and shapes his character. If Oskar’s circumstances had been more positive, perhaps the boy would have grown into himself. Perhaps his story would have been entirely different. However, due to this cycle triggered by his neglect, Oskar stumbles through life with low self value and an extinguished spirit, enduring bullying and escaping through isolation. Oskar’s unraveling as a character, then, helps pose the question of who exactly are we raising ourselves as a society to be? Parents are not the only people with the power to shape others. In fact, any person that exists may place their impression upon the world and if we harness this small power as individuals, we have the ability to nurture a healthier society at large.

Karly Wood on April 5th, 2016 at 10:54 pm


Brian’s post on Let the Right One in is thought provoking and well researched. I agree that important themes in both the play and film are the outsider theory, issues of isolation, and the seriousness of bullying. While this post argues for Eli as an outsider and a character that has great appeals for empathy, I disagree. A piece of analysis that I thought should have been included was the recognition of the manipulative manner in which Eli made friends and continued to evolve her relationship with Oskar. In the post, a quotation from Eli is referred to as an example of Eli gaining empathy from the audience. This quotation is from the scene where Eli begins to bleed when she enters Oskar’s house. After Eli tries to console Oskar by suggesting that she is “just like him,” Oskar brings up the fact that he does not kill people and Eli responds, “but you’d like to if you could, to get revenge. I do it because I have to.” The author of this post interprets this scene as an outlet for the audience to sympathize with Eli’s need for blood in order to survive. Although that could be the case for some audience members, another interpretation of the quotation, “but you’d like to if you could, to get revenge” could be Eli furthering her long term scheme to recruit Oskar into being her next Hakan. This quotation does that by trying to normalize the idea of killing for Oskar, by telling him that he would have a good reason to do so. It is clear throughout the play and the film that Eli is struggling to get the nourishment she needs, and that Hakan is not as able as he used to be when it comes to killing strangers for Eli’s meals. Although it is never explicitly stated for the audience, Oskar taking over the role of Eli’s meal hunter is alluded to. In a way, audience members who accept the aforementioned scene as a means to gain sympathy for Eli are also accepting her manipulative tactics. If Eli truly is recruiting Oskar for the meal hunting role, she would need to gain sympathy from Oskar and the audience in order to turn a young boy into her personal killer. While I understand why the scene at Oskar’s house could be interpreted as empathetic towards Eli with the outsider theory perspective, I also think that without the recognition of her manipulative tactics throughout the play and film, the analysis of Eli is incomplete.

essinec on April 6th, 2016 at 10:27 am

The blog post has touched on the seriousness of bullying, which also happens almost everywhere across the world constantly. Teenagers, who often times have not built a correct perception of the world and have trouble identifying personal values, are constantly influenced negatively by these bullies without proper guidance from adults. In the play, Oscar is depicted as such a teenager who are neglected by his own parents and who has trouble dealing with the bullies. Therefore, befriending Eli seems to be a very bad idea because as Eli relentlessly kills the bullies later in the swimming pool, Oscar has learnt that the only way to prevent himself from getting bullied is through violence and revenge. This is certainly not a correct approach to solve the bully issue and the world would become a very intimidating and scary place to live in if more teenagers bullied in real life have realized the same concept. As a result, the society should put in more emphasis on the proper guidance and counseling to the teenagers from adults, and more attention should be paid to the psychological healthiness of the teenagers as they grow up.
Another thing that the author of the blog post mentioned was the issues of isolation. Although I agreed that Oscar is helplessly isolated from the society and desire to be “invited in,” I would not argue the same for Eli. Although it seemed that many of her behavior seems to benefit Oscar, she does not seem eager to be “invited in” the human society as a whole. Instead, the only possible purpose of her approaching Oscar was to use him as a second “Hakan,” who has hunted and killed for her. The issue of isolation and the desire to fit in may be reasonable to talk about when dealing with the same species; however, for a vampire that needs to survive with human’s blood and has no intention to quit killing and murdering, the idea of her trying to get recognized by the human beings is questionable.

Ao Dai on April 11th, 2016 at 10:46 pm

This film is one that can be described with some key words, like “angst” or “twists and turns” and even “discomfort”. This is not your regular, Hollywood, run of the mill vampire “rom-dram”. It is a more dark feature, highlighting many subtleties one may not find in other horror films. One comment touched upon such, with the mention of parental power, but this is a part of a larger commentary that is seen throughout the entire film. It is never mentioned though. It is seen in the trade-off Alfredson and Lindqvist make. By favoring horror, they gave way to a narration-less film that connects with Oskar’s unraveling as an adolescent. He is forced to go through a developmental period with little to no guidance the way we’re forced to watch this movie with little to no idea of where we’ll end up next. It is very possible this is a concept that the directors wanted us viewers to extrapolate and apply to the countless adolescents that do not have parents or, even worse, have parents who do not act as guides in a place where navigation is dire early on. I must applaud that effort, especially when it comes in the form of a looming overcast seen throughout a horror film. Though many words that may have served as some sort of narration for us, the viewer, were missing, the directors were sure to use many visual cues that made it possible for us to keep up. The use of the color red stood for danger, passion, love and other ideas. This relates yet again to the lives of those missing guidance in the world: they must learn by observation. Seeing is believing, and from what I could see, I believe this horror film serves as more than an entertainment piece. It is a comment-lacking commentary on a sensitive topic facing many, though not spoken about often enough.

roundsva on April 18th, 2016 at 10:59 am

As a fan of horror and thrillers, this film and play were interesting things to tackle. Nowadays we get things labeled as horror but they just carry elements of horror with thriller jumpscares. Let The Right One In, gave us themes of both with a hint of romance which was interesting and tackled issues like bullying and to an extent racism like the blog post states. The only challenge with this would be that it takes a thinking audience to see past the slight edges of romance to see the racism. The main topic I saw addressed was the bullying (where racism can fall under). Oskar deals unfortunately with what a lot of youth have to deal with and they don’t have an Eli to come to their rescue. The phrase “Be me a little,” in my opinion tells the viewer to have both aspects of Oskar and Eli within them to deal with issues that arise like the extreme form of bullying Oskar endured. The film and play find a balance between these three genres and give do us the themes of isolation, bullying, racism, wonder, and realism. I find Let The Right One In to be a very interesting concept and well put together.

Salvador Miranda on May 2nd, 2016 at 2:49 am

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