If you’ve visited CHUD at all in the last couple of weeks, you know about Let The Right One In, the brilliant Swedish vampire movie that has been killing them at film festivals across the country and which is finally opening (albeit in New York and LA) this weekend, followed by a larger national rollout. I love this film, and have been trying to stay just this side of overhyping it for you guys, despite the fact that it was overhyped to me… and I still loved it.
A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Tomas Alfredson, the director of the film, and we had a talk that got pretty spoilery pretty quickly. Alfredson was willing to get into major spoilers right from the start, which is the exact opposite of many people I know who have seen it and say ‘Keep totally ignorant of every aspect of the movie!’ I fall somewhere in the middle – if you’re going to go out and see a movie about a 12 year old vampire and the boy who falls in love with her in 1982 Sweden, you probably want to know a couple things about it besides ‘It’s totally fucking great!’
But with that in mind, I do want to save you from spoilers. My compromise is to run this interview with the most spoileriffic stuff blacked out. Do yourself a favor and DO NOT SWIPE THE BLACK unless you have already seen the movie. Seriously. And there’s some good, fascinating stuff in the black, so you may want to bookmark this page until you’ve seen the movie. We’ll be here waiting for you.
I did a little bit of research about the book and the movie, and you made some pretty big changes from the book, most specifically in the character of Håkan. Why make those changes?
In the book Håkan is an outspoken pedophile… [at this point the tape is mysteriously garbled. Sorry]… to debate on a film. I think it’s very irresponsible to do that. It’s a very complicated theme, and I had been working on it in another film. It was really hard to portray that in a film. If we were to have that in this one, it would be all about that. So we took that away. It’s suggested, it’s between the lines, you could put it there if you wanted to. But I would think that Håkan in the film version could be an old lover to her, as Oskar himself becomes. Love is the only thing that is a threat to Eli, so Håkan would be the only person she could be close to – that is, a person she despises.
With him being an old lover, that adds such a wonderful, bittersweet aspect to the ending. Is this Oskar’s future? One thing you didn’t change is that you didn’t change the time period. It’s a period film but it’s almost imperceptibly a period film. There are a couple of things that clue us in that it’s a period film, but you’re not getting bogged down in period fashion or period music. Why keep it in 1982?
Because those fantastic things that happen, the supernatural things that happen, it was easier for me to do it in a past tense. And maybe this is not interesting or a big thing for an [American] audience, but for Swedes this period of time was very different from how Sweden is today. In those days we were living halfway behind the Iron Curtain. Using nostalgia is an easy way to cash in the points. We have one song… you know the rock group Roxette? Per [Ragnar, who plays Håkan], who is the songwriter, he wrote a song as if it was 1982, the record he puts on. Nobody has a specific relationship to that song, but it gives you that feeling. We have no news, no music. It’s too cheap. And then people always have their very specific own experience connected to, say, music, that would destroy the feeling of the film.
And I loved the silence in the book. It’s very much about silence. The silent life in a suburb in winter. Today sounds are much closer and much higher, I would believe. From everywhere, form mobile phones to radio to television. That’s a big difference, the soundscape I wanted to use.
This is a horror film, a vampire film. But if you took the vampire stuff out I think you’d still have a very similar story. Why is the vampire element important to this story?
It’s very hard to pinpoint. It’s about the things in your mind, the animal of your mind. You can’t say a wolf is a cruel animal. You can say it does cruel things, but it’s not cruel. It’s the same thing with the vampire, she does things that are necessary for her to live, but she is not a cruel character. That is a very interesting thing to explore. I think if a person is bullied, as in this case Oskar, it doesn’t grow as much sorrow as it grows anger. She will be that anger. That character is also suggested to be a dream; I don’t know if you experienced that when you saw the film, but it’s suggested at the end when she leaves, that maybe she was just a dream, this girl. She would personalize all his anger, everything he is not. He loads a lot of violence inside of him. Maybe the children who do these horrifying things at schools, the shootings… I don’t know if you read about the Finnish killings the other week… Bullied, it’s rather simple mathematics. If you give a lot of love to a child, it will be a very loving child. If you give a lot of anger to a child, it will be a very angry child.
The vampire could have been a superwoman, too, or a superkid. But his anger, I would think, is animalistic.
This film is really traditional, it’s not reinventing the rules of vampires. Are you a fan of vampires?
No, nothing at all. I’m mostly famous for doing comedies. This is my first sort of horror-ish film I’ve ever made. I had to call the author just to check all the things if they were correct, about the garlic and the lighting and everything. I am totally ignorant on this subject!
You’ve made your opinion known about the impending American remake, and I agree with you that it’s really pointless. The rumor I’ve been hearing is that they’re going to make Oskar and Eli teenagers. For me that almost ruins everything. How important is it for you that these kids are 12 years old, and not 17 years old?
To me this story is totally non-sexual. Traditionally vampirism has some sort of erotic undertone to it, but this is very, very innocent. She asks him twice, ‘Would it matter if I were not a girl?’ and it doesn’t matter as it doesn’t have anything to do with sexuality. It would be interesting what they would come up with, but I don’t understand what they think.
It’s interesting because in the book she’s not a girl.
She’s not a girl in the film, either, but it’s not outspoken. She’s an androgyne. There is a short image of….
Oh, I did see that, but I was 100% sure what that was.
It’s suggested. She’s a castrated boy. Somehow in my version that’s not important. Whether she’s a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter.
You have the whole film centered on these two kids. How hard is it to get them performing at this level?
If you do a sequence of six scenes which, when you put them together, will leave you will some kind of story or message, you can’t explain that to a child actor: “We’re going to do six scenes that will bring you this message.” You have to be very simple. You can’t say to a child actor, “You are very angry with all grown ups.” But you could say “Today you are very angry with your mother because she has cooked some distasteful food. That’s what you’re going to act today, you’re going to eat this food and hate it. Show it to me.” You have to break everything down to very short pieces, to very short periods of time. And in this case I didn’t let them read the [script], either. I read it out loud to them so they learned it by ear, not by eye. I’ve been working a lot with kids, so I have a lot of experience with kids.
This film has been really embraced in America, winning film festivals all over the country. What do you have next, and do you think that we might see it over here now that America has a taste for your work?
It would be very interesting, but there are a lot of stories of European filmmakers getting carried away by getting Hollywood proposals, and then they make the wrong one and they get into movie jail. I’m not so anxious of doing just any film, but it would be wonderful to do an English speaking film. I’m reading a lot and meeting a lot of people, but I’m doing it my way – my slow, Swedish way.