Leave the Right Things Out

Freelance writer/ cinephile Bryn Tilly read the book and watched the movie.

Now he scrutinises the changes – and particularly the omissions -author John Ajvide Linqvist made when adapting his own novel Let the Right One In for the screen.

I saw Let the Right One In (dir. Tomas Alfredson, 2008) before I read the novel. I was immediately impressed by how Alfredson balanced purely cinematic elements and yet maintained a distinct lyrical, at times poetic, edge to the visual narrative.

The screenplay was written by the novel’s author John Ajvide Lindqvist and it’s a dramatically tight and emotionally sustained piece of cinematic writing – a very impressive debut for a feature screenplay adaptation.

I’m not sure what early drafts of the screenplay were like, but for the shooting script Lindqvist had cut more than one character from the novel and jettisoned a major climax

What usually happens when a novel is adapted into a movie is that a number of sub-plots are jettisoned and peripheral characters are amalgamated. This is due to cinematic time constraints, and is also an effort not to clutter the narrative with too many characters.

It’s curious that what works easily in prose doesn’t necessarily work well for cinema. I’m not sure what early drafts of the screenplay were like, but for the shooting script Lindqvist had cut more than one character from the novel and jettisoned a major climax that occurs during the last third of the novel, turning the film into a more conventional boy meets girl romance.

Author John Ajvide Lindqvist

Author John Adjvide Lindqvist

The basic premise of both novel and movie is this: 12-year-old Oskar meets a Eli, a girl of roughly the same age. Oskar is an only child and is bullied at school. Eli is a vampire who lives with her middle-aged caretaker Hakan. Oskar and Eli become friends, while Eli continues to live the life of a vampire, killing in order to consume blood, in order to survive.

As it turns out Eli is not really a girl. And herein lies the novel’s brilliant twist. It is a twist which, curiously, Lindqvist decides to not address anywhere near as directly in the movie as he does in his novel.

What usually happens when a novel is adapted into a movie is that a number of sub-plots are jettisoned and peripheral characters are amalgamated.

In both the novel and the movie Eli explains to Oskar that she is not really a girl. The audience has already assumed that Eli is a vampire, so they are making the connection that by saying she is not a girl, Eli is hinting she is a vampire.

However there is more to this. Later in the novel Eli kisses Oskar and in doing so initiates a kind of memory transference: Oskar experiences a memory of Eli’s as if it is happening to him.

In the memory Eli is a young boy who is tied down and has his genitals cut off by a middle-aged man. Eli also tells Oskar that his real name is Elias, which is a boy’s name. Oskar eventually realizes the truth, but his fondness for Eli is not dampened.

Eli

Eli

When I saw the movie I was initially shocked, then very intrigued by it. I wasn’t sure what I’d seen.

There are only two visual references to Eli not being a girl in the movie. The first is when Eli kisses Oskar (the memory transference) and tells Oskar “try being me for a moment”. As Eli breaks the kiss and pulls away the audience sees for a brief moment that Eli is not a girl but a grown adult man but with the same features.

The other moment, which is also in the novel, is when Oskar peeks at Eli dressing after having had a shower and glimpses a horizontal scar where Eli’s genitals should be. When I saw the movie I was initially shocked, then very intrigued by it. I wasn’t sure what I’d seen. In fact, I hadn’t registered the scar, but simply that Eli had no genitals. It didn’t occur to me that Eli might be a boy.

In this respect it seems a conscious decision was made by Alfredson and Lindqvist to leave that side of Eli’s character more cryptic and mysterious. It certainly adds a dark, phantasmogorical element to the movie.

Hakan

Hakan

In the movie Eli has an assistant, a middle-aged man named Hakan. He has to do Eli’s dirty work, collecting the blood from young boys for Eli to drink. In the novel Hakan is a pedophile, and there is a scene where he buys the services of a young pubescent boy who it turns out has no teeth.

Hakan’s aberrant character is toned down immeasurably for the movie. In fact there is no direct reference to him being a pedophile. It can be safely assumed that director Alfredson and/or producers decided that having Hakan as a pedophile would severely damage the audience’s sympathy for Eli, despite Eli being a supernatural killer. Curious, still, is Alfredson’s decision to cast a girl in the role of Eli instead of an androgynous boy.

I find it hard to believe that Hollywood would embrace those darker more perverse elements of the novel for the movie

Another change from novel to movie is this: In the novel 12-year-old Oskar has a friend, Tommy, a 16-year-old who lives in the same apartment complex and uses the basement to sniff glue and hang with his teenage mates. He offers to sell Oskar toys (no doubt stolen). Tommy might have dodgy morals, but he’s not a villain character.

Eli and Tommy represent two halves of what Oskar desires. In Tommy he sees the confident “adult” who can look after himself and not have to worry about being bullied, which is what is happening to Oskar in and out of school. In Eli he sees the pretty girl whom has stolen his heart.  Yet Tommy is not included in the movie.

Tommy’s mother Yvonne is also dropped from the story, along with his father Staffan. In the movie the name Yvonne is given to Oskar’s mother, who is never named in the novel.

Oscar and Eli

Oscar and Eli

The movie plays out more conventionally as a boy meets girl romance, where the girl happens to be a vampire, and the boy needs a dose of self-confidence. The novel, however, it is much darker tale, where the vampire’s sexuality has been stunted through castration, and presumably he has lived for two hundred years in this way.

Hollywood is remaking the movie; to be re-titled Let Me In. Rumour has it that screenwriter/director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) plans to stick more closely to the novel. I find it hard to believe that Hollywood would embrace those darker more perverse elements of the novel for the movie, when even the famously open-minded Swedish baulked at adapting the novel as it was.

BRYNSTARBryn Tilly is a shameless cinephile, freelance writer and professional DJ who spends his daytime hosting two movie blogs – http://www.horrorphile.net and www.cultprojections.com. Night time he spins deep funk for jazzed souls at Sydney’s glam hotspots such as The Ivy and The Opera Bar. He provides a ‘Movie of the Month’ review for lifestyle website www.freshmag.com.au.

We’re giving away 5 copies of the novel LET THE RIGHT ONE IN by John Ajvide Lindqvist, courtesy of Text Publishing. To win, send an email to books@thestorydepartment.com and tell us what you think was the most memorable ever film adaptation.

About the Author

Cleo Mees

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Cleo Mees is a Sydney-based writer, filmmaker and dancer. With a background across several disciplines, her interest is in finding out how these different disciplines can intersect and inform each other.

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