In the Swedish film, Let the Right One In, the main character, Oskar is an “other.” He has no friends and is bullied at school whenever the teachers/adults cannot see them. His parents live apart and while he usually has the freedom to go play outside on his own, as soon as murder victims being strung up by their feet and drained of blood start popping up around his town even that becomes limited. That is, until he meets Eli.
Eli is another “other.” But what keeps her separated from society is not a unique awkwardness and general easiness to pick on by peers, but the need to drain blood from others to survive. The two meet and despite both of their better judgements they become fast friends. It is after this point we begin to see Oskar’s true nature.
They symbolism starts before we even begin watching the film. The title itself is a clue to Oskar and his inner workings. He doesn’t let anyone into his thoughts. He tries to lead a quiet, normal life, but he has urges and curiosities that probably shouldn’t be expressed by a boy of 12 years, 9 months, and 8 days. So, he must wait to find the right person to let in. The same goes for Eli. She is alone and cannot let anyone into her life. Even her caretaker dies at her hands after trying to do what needs to be done to keep her alive. So, when they find each other, they let each other in.
We see quickly how they were nearly made for each other almost from the start. They meet as Oskar is threatening a tree with his knife and telling it to squeal. They talk only briefly but are clearly fascinated with each other. As they grow confident in each others’ presence and Eli convinces him to have confidence in himself and to stand up for himself against the bullies, we see Oskar grow more and more sadistic. Not only gaining strength and confidence, but enjoying winning his battles and gaining a sense of bloodlust. This is most likely one of the reasons he is so attracted to Eli.
He seems to suspect early on what she is but when he knows it to be the truth he tests her and pushes her in a creepily curious way, fascinated and scared all in one. I believe he is scared at first not because he believes he will hurt her or because he knows she has killed others, but because he is afraid of how intrigued and delighted he is by the notion. We’ve already seen him cut himself with a smile on his face and beat his schoolmate with a stick with the same satisfied smile, so this almost sick obsession with Eli is not surprising.
The biggest demonstration of how alike the two are comes right before she leaves him after she kills one of their neighbors. She holds his face close and tells him to be a little more like her. She repeats it over and over most likely trying to give him words to stay alive by, knowing how alike they truly are inside. They even both smile when she saves him at the end by tearing apart the boys trying to drown him.
It is amazing to me the subtleties in their characterizations. Oskar is a human who has a certain violent bloodlust he cannot act on and Eli is a vampire with a necessary bloodlust she wishes she didn’t have to act on. They are the same yet opposite. Still, they care deeply for each other and find a kind of love for one another amongst all the madness in their lives thus connecting them further. Though their romantic relationship is not what I’m discussing here but rather their “monstrous” similarities, the article about their romance on the Philosophy Now website is very intriguing and should be checked out.
This long-winded description of their similarities is only to give a detailed example of how “othering” in stories tend to work, and specifically how it worked in this film. The ones labeled as “different” find each other and bond over their differences to society; forming and finding connections and similarities to each other to survive emotionally.
This tie fits perfectly into Jeffery Cohen’s fourth thesis from his Monster Culture (Seven Thesis) about how “the monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us,” an “other” by definition. In this movie, we could even consider Oskar a monster as well as Eli. Eli may be the monster in her physical needs and attributes, but Oskar seems to be the monster by action and desire.(I really do not want to meet him all grown up let alone as a child).