Book Vs. Film: Let The Right One In
"Ah, let the right one slip in, slip in, slip in.
And when at last it does, I'd say you were within your rights
to bite the right one and say, what kept you so long?,
What kept you so long?"
If you ever just see Let the Right One In, you've had a nearly perfect film experience. If you've also read the book, you've had the whole enchilada. It's not necessary, but it never hurts. The democratic whole shebang. Look, allow me to illuminate, readers: I will just tell you what the book adds, where it differs in a way that would interest you, probably crush a little hard on the movie, and Matt Reeves is a douchebag.
While we are on the subject, and since you asked for my opinion, I have never seen the American remake, Let Me In. And I won't be, ever. And I'm only half a snob when it comes to Americanized versions: I prefer the American version of the Japanese Ringu, for example, and enjoyed Haneke's shot for shot remake of his own German Funny Games. I liked it the first time, too, and his bristled contempt for an American audience was gleeful. For every Ringu there is a Grudge, and for every Funny Games there is a painful The Vanishing. To remake a beautiful film for Western audiences just so they don't have to do any of that bothersome reading stuff or look at an albino for 90 minutes, and will pay handsomely for anything vampire related, especially if it already has great word of mouth, is a dreadful grab for ducats. I knew that they were just giving people lip service when they changed Eli's name. Eli. Yeah, it's weird to the Swedish kid, too, but there's a reason it's a strange name for a girl. Reeves was all, yeah, I want to be true to the book and stuff, faithful to the source and stuff, and yeah we're changing Eli's name to Abby. One of these things is not like the other. He had a good cast. There are my $.02. So, feel free to discuss your opinions down yonder re: Reeves's gilded lily bastardization. Moving on to the good stuff!
The book is certainly going to add many a note to the main characters, Eli and Oskar. In a book you can be privvy to inner monologues, so much endless narrative wealth, and in a film you have to trust that what people can see the actors doing is enough to define their character. So, I'm going to say that this is a no-brainer. Oskar spends much of the film looking very Swedish and oddly like a weak-necked puppy. This seems to be expounded when added to water, note. Kinda creepy with the scrapbook thing, but dresses smartly and has good taste in music. I had to make sure that this wasn't one of the Icelandic kids in those Sigur Ros videos. Glosoli, specifically. I confess: he is not, sorry. But you should listen to that now, it'll be good for you. In the book, Oskar is kinda fat. Which is endearing, but added to his incontinence issues, hyper-obsessive behavior, turn the creepy scrabook thing to eleven and I can see why he isn't socially well adjusted. He's a little off-putting, say. He doesn't just stab trees; he has entire fantasies about killing his bullies where he calls himself the Murderer and yeah, okay, stabs trees roleplaying those fantasies. But manages to be creepier. To be fair, his bullies really do want to kill him in the book, and not just administer some light, yet threatening water torture. But he also does carry around something he calls the Pissball. Do your sums.
As for Eli, yeah, they leave a lot of the iffiest stuff out. During one of their kisses where she transfers her memories to him, she passes onto Oskar a memory of her life pre-vampire and, of course, the revelation that she was castrated during some ritual. She is a he! Just like she kept saying! He. Eli is Elias (note: not Abby). But really, she is mostly an enigma, given little segments of her own. So, I guess I'd say the biggest difference is that it's made clear that Eli is a boy--well, a boy but a vampire but, a boy--and those circumstances are pretty effective on the psyche. In the film, for some people there's still that question, and others didn't see the blink-or-you'll-miss-it but maybe you-want-to-miss-it crotch shot. But, several other tidbits are to be gleaned from her brief spells with narration, like the logistics of "flying" and being a vampire, but this is a vampire in a book concerned more with the human side of things, friends, and for that reason Eli's aloof and distant manner to all but Oskar is felt by the reader, as well. In the film, I think that though Eli is fleshed out less as a character, the film performance purposefully asks for empathy from the audience. This is little of it but Eli's backstory is weird and gruesome and it is definitely worth the read, but the character between the mediums is different.
The book version of Håkan I do appreciate more, and that is probably because I can form a more solid opinion of him. The film is rather empathetic to his character, and to his suffering, but the book also informs you that he is definitely a pedophile. Sinister apples, Terry Gilliam feeling stuff. This man pays for blowjobs from boy prostitutes, for one, and is powerless to his urges for young boys. This is the real, true reason he is around Eli. Smally sad but wholly vile, and I'd spit when his name came into conversation--Håkan, ptoo!--knowing makes things more clear. He is so possessed and humble, so much martyred piousness and such seldom seeming vulgarity, that to keep the book's lurid motivational shade of him is helpful. So when he asks Eli not to see Oskar for the night in exchange for his fetching of dinner, you will know it is not because he is lonely; it's because he's jealous. I feel bad that you are being ordered around by this vampire, old pasty-faced milk drinker. No, wait: you're a pedophile. Right, no, on with the acid. Also, he turns into a zombie and tracks through the countryside to find Eli--but that part is cool. Not so much? The raping zombie thing. Thin line, readers.
The book is 500+ pages, which should tell you that a number of things were left out of the film. A good bulk of this is subplot involving other townspeople connected somehow to our leads, for a more layered and less young, pale love effect, but is far-reaching enough to include a squirrel. Some of them, honestly, get boring: Lacke, you yawnish brute. Virginia gives some great insight into what it means, as a human, to turn into a vampire, and at least it's an extra on the DVD. Not only is it from the perspective of a woman, which I appreciate, but it's an intelligent, journalistic, somewhat sobering look at the mythos of vampirism and what happens when you're dead, only not really. I suppose it might involve eating the bloody bandages off your own face. The horror, right? Seriously. The horror.
One scene that is unfortunate in the film version that the book would never confuse is when Oskar is visiting his father, whose friend stops by one night with some booze, inappropriately dressed but sloshed and WERK, and everyone just kinda stands around in the frame, awkward, and it feels a lot like it's trying to insinuate something, namely homosexuality, that resulted in their estrangement as a family. In reality, though, Oskar's father is just an alcoholic who got busted by his kid when his sloshed, inappropriately dressed friend dropped in to get drunk with him.
In the end, sometimes it's just a fine adaptation and the film can say things better than the book can: some of the things I like most in this story are the score and the lighting and things that you can't read from the book, like the use of a vintage poster showing a woman shielding her eyes from the glaring sun above as material for blocking the window's of Eli's room, the pristine tried and true terror of white on red, the ice in the freezing trees catching the meager sun just enough to sparkle like diamonds and it's beautiful and ominous, somehow. Which perfectly describes the movie. Watch the film, and then do read the book and treat it as glorious supplementary experience.
Officially, then: FILM. It is necessary to acknowledge Lindvquist's haunting novel of layers for the story it provides, and it is a truly a story that will people your dreams. It is the film, however, that best accomplishes this, with a tonality and style not superior in the novel. The film trims the necessary fat, in such a respectful way that to read the novel later is a bonus, exponentially appreciative experience. It might color some opinions differently (namely that of Håkan, and Oskar's fate), as all extra information tends to do. It is beautiful dulcet horror: sounds nice, looks nice, with an iced grip that sleets into your veins its winterhearted love story that can only really end one way, with one of the two coming to the realization that Eli is going to be a vampire, forever, and that Oskar will one day die. Like how you know one of them is going to sadly eat it, sadly, in Beaches, so you sit through their histrionics for two hours because it's Bette Midler (bless). But still knowing that things will end badly, non? Horror movies have a way of doing that to you. Let the right ones in!