Friday, January 16, 2009

Sucking Blood Without Sucking Ass


I saw the best vampire movie ever last night. Although I'm a big fan of the Vampire in all its cinematic manifestations, Vampire Movies have always been categorized in the “Guilty Pleasures” section of my film appreciation catalogue. I’ve seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in chronological order, not once, but twice. I enjoy repeated viewings of Underworld. I’m even contemplating seeing Twilight, despite the fact that every shred of reason in my movie-loving brain revolts at the thought.

But last night, Let the Right One In went ahead and let me put an honest to snot Vampire Movie in my “Good Cinema” section. It was beautiful and cold and quiet and satisfying and romantic and wonderful. And it was about vampires.

Aside from the exquisite use of silence and sound, the beautifully composed scenes, spot-on character development, and heart-wrenchingly perfect relationship development--you know, all the stuff that went into making it a good movie--this film did something that the Vampire Genre has been sorely wanting for years now: it treated vampires like vampires.

The vampire myth is old, old, old. And with anything that’s been around so long, that’s been re-imagined in so many novels and films and TV shows, there’s going to be a bit of variation in the lore. Some vampires have to sleep in coffins, some don’t. Some are harmed by crucifixes, some are “quite fond” of looking at them. Sunlight is a generally agreed bad thing for the undead, though the degree of adverse effects seems to vary. But one fact that's consistent, or else you just aren’t dealing with vampires at all: Vampires drink blood. This should, then, result in human death.

But just look at all the pussyfied ways the purveyors of vampires on screen go about getting around this messy fact so as to make the Vampires more "sympathetic" or some crap. In Buffy, Angel, and later Spike--the Vampires with Hearts of Gold--drink blood from the butcher shop. The "good" vampires in Twilight are known as “vegetarian” vampires, feeding off animals, not humans. In Underworld they drink synthetic blood.

Come on.

First off, vampires are not people, they are a myth. One we created for myriad reasons--to fablize death, to exemplify man's exploitation of man, to scare ourselves, to entertain. They are human-like, but not human. They occupy a position both above and below man. Vampires are immortal, they get to see in the dark and have superhuman strength and can climb buildings and can sometimes change into bats, but they are also monsters, doomed to feed off humanity. Finding convenient, "inoffensive" ways of dealing with this "problem" does a disservice to the genre specifically, and to storytelling in general. It's like eating just the middle part of the brie. Sure it's yummy and creamy and easy to take, but without that rind, you don't get all the complexity of flavor, the bitterness with the smoothness, and you're just cheating yourself.

Let the Right One In took the Vampire Genre and used it to a most spectacular advantage. In the cold nether regions of Sweden, everything and everyone is insulated, metaphorically as well as physically. The camera even keeps its distance, never giving us a clear image of who we're looking at until a young boy, one who is rarely interacted with except as the punchline to a bully's torment, meets a young vampire. Then the camera is all up in there, intrusively close to the young couple's faces. So close that we see every nonexistent pore of the young boy's paleness and youth, and see the flecks of color in the young girl's very dark and very old eyes.

The relationship they form becomes furiously close, but because she is a vampire, there is necessarily some unpleasantness. In one scene, a working class man embraces his friend at the end of a pleasant evening as both men prepare to head their respective ways home. They tell one another how lovely it is to be friends, and how they look forward to seeing one another again. They part. The working class man goes one way, his friend another. The friend turns and walks beneath a bridge and the vampire girl eats him. Later, she eats the girlfriend of that newly bereaved working class man, and when the working class man comes to rightfully seek revenge and slay the vampire girl, the young pale boy intervenes, thereby sealing the fate of the working class man, and cementing his devotion to this violent, murderous girl. And that's love.

In another display of strength, this movie also doesn't shy away from the problem of immortality. It shows it straight on, in all its sad, unfortunate glory. And consequently creates one of the most fully realized love stories I've seen in years. The boy and girl are both 12, but she has been 12 for a very long time. And will continue to be 12 long after the boy is dead. We're shown just what this will mean for them. At the beginning of the film, the vampire girl arrives in town with an old man. What we assume to be her father turns out to be a servant of sorts, going out into the cold and trying to bring her back blood. Slowly we realize he is in love with this girl, and as his age renders him useless, as he sees the girl necessarily begin to move on to the young, pale boy, the old man offers the ultimate sacrifice to her. And she moves on. In this, the film shows us simultaneously the beginning and the end of a budding relationship.

In every relationship there is self-sacrifice and loss off self. There is heartbreak. And ultimately, the relationship will not last. This is truth. Fairy tales be damned because no story is happy if you follow it long enough. But we run around falling in love anyway. And fairy tales be praised because that's why we're here. To ruin ourselves and mess up and get hurt, but not before loving. Not before love.

Let the Right One In was able to do so much more, show so much more than any genre-less picture. It made love all the more real by showing the terrible things we're willing to do for it. It made love all the more lovely by showing the inevitable end of every romance. It was able to do all this so well and so effectively because it used the Vampire Myth properly. There's just not as much life in synthetic blood.

1 comment:

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