02 December 2010
What makes this great to me from a narrative standpoint is the limited perspective of the story. All the complex backstories and answers to various mysteries are left out because Oskar, our protagonist character, either wouldn't know or isn't curious. Although the novel sounds moving and interesting and a lot more complicated, all I can do it repeat my first reaction, that it was the right choice to leave that out of the film. Everybody likes a good mystery, and everybody likes a rich lived-in world with its own sense of history, mythology, and character, but I think people are happiest when the edges remain unexplored. It gives you a sense that there's more out there. It's why the first Matrix movie is a thousand times better than the following two (and I'm, to a degree, a bit of an apologist for series like those). It's why the first Star Wars, and to a lesser degree the entire first trilogy, will always outpace the later films/trilogy in people's imaginations. Or Alien, or Blade Runner, or Indiana Jones, or THX 1138 (Lucas was on a roll early in his career; it's a crucial lesson I rather think he's forgotten). If you pull me into your world and make me believe it is rational, follows its own consistent but unique logic, but you tease me with a world beyond the borders of each frame that feels just as consistent and rational, you will have won my heart.
The other thing handled so well here is of course the actual tone and style of the film itself. The cinematography is beautiful in a way I'd call "slow," or at least "patient." Glacial, maybe, which suits the region and definitely seems like the contemporary Scandinavian style, if Aki Kaurismäki is any indicator. (I'm also reminded of the Icelandic Noi Albinoi and Roy Andersson's awesome films.)
Tight close-ups remind us that our perspective is limited, that the story is about the small characters in the big world who can only see so far. Action scenes tend to be fast and just barely off-frame (like the pool confrontation and Lacke's death in Eli's bathroom) or in extremely wide shots (like the attacks on Virginia and Jocke); in both cases the camera hovers impassive, lingering at the scene but nonchalant, almost as if capturing the drama by accident. This keeps the violence from us in a way that transforms terror into dread and panic into fear, and it keeps the plot at arm's length, because Let The Right One In is not a movie about its plot. It's not about what happens next. It's only ever about young Oskar, and how he relates to the confounding object of his affections, Eli. It's about character and mood, and not plot. (That's a far cry from saying it doesn't have a plot, obviously; it just keeps the plot in the background, slightly out of focus.) And every shot in the film says this. You cannot forget or mistake the focus of this story, and because the story is so fascinating in its simplicity and because Oskar and Eli are such charismatic, complicated and well-drawn characters, this is exactly the right approach. Wonderful, inspiring, and worth the revisit.