Book vs. Movie vs. Movie
Let The Right One In
Well, I am here to report that I was very pleasantly surprised. My love for the Swedish film remains intact - and actually, I feel like a traitor for saying this, but there are several aspects of the movie that I actually like more than the book. The American film, on the other hand, became even more intolerable after I had read the book. I could barely force myself to watch it a second time (I only succeeded in finishing it after several frustrating sittings). It will be impossible to write this without spoilers, but I will make every attempt to warn you all before I give away anything really big.
Both movies, I think, did a great job with the cold, small-town atmosphere of Blackeburg: a small-minded place with almost no history. I had to laugh at the American film for setting the story in Los Alamos, New Mexico though. Is it really that cold and snowy in Los Alamos? Who knew?
The American film opens with “the father’s” death many weeks later! (In the American film, Hakan doesn’t have a name.) I found this very odd, because it really places an emphasis on that event which I don’t think it deserves. The opening scenes of the American film are all flash and screaming and death…which really shouldn’t surprise me but I was still disappointed. The bullying is very much shown, with Owen getting a painful wedgie, wetting himself, and being tormented verbally. In the American film they call him “little girl” instead of “piggy” which just makes me sad. I guess in America, that really is more of an insult. Boo. Another major disappointment is that the main characters’ names are changed from Eli and Oskar to Abby and Owen. Seriously? I mean… I know it was changed to an American setting, but… would Ellie and Oscar have been too hard? Come on. The head bully’s name is also changed, to Kenny.
In the book, Oskar is shown playing at murder by threatening and stabbing a tree and this scene is very brilliantly interwoven with the scene of Hakan murdering a boy in the woods (for blood). Oskar also has a shoplifting habit and likes to collect newspaper articles about murders. In both the Swedish and American films, the shoplifting is completely cut out. But the Swedish film shows Oskar attacking a tree and collecting newspaper articles. In the American film, they take Oskar’s tendencies a ridiculous step further by having him put on a crazy serial killer mask, watch people in his apartment complex through a telescope, and threaten himself with a knife in the mirror. He also has an obsession with Now & Later. Hooookay.
Hakan doesn’t seem to enjoy murdering people in the films, but he seems to do it out of loyalty. Both films also paint his death as a very heartbreaking, almost loving scene which is quite different than the book. To avoid major spoilers, let me just vaguely say that his death in the book involves weeks of surgery, a crazy re-animated killing machine, a dark basement, and the most horrific night in all of Blackeburg's limited history.
One thing that I did actually like in the American film was the playfulness between Abby and Owen. In the book, Eli and Oskar have sweet inside jokes and secret codes. They are very much children together, which becomes incredibly poignant when contrasted with Eli’s relationship with Hakan. Oskar is not yet old enough to see Eli in a sexual way, and their relationship never feels sexualized. Abby and Owen in the American film are shown in the arcade giggling and buying candy in the corner store. Some of these scenes are in the Swedish film as well, but they feel much more sedate. I never got that sense of childish fun.
However, I was very disappointed that the American film does seem to sexualize their relationship. Owen is shown watching his neighbors make out and there’s a very important (to the book) scene where Oskar sees Eli undressed that’s similarly turned into blushing voyeurism, much to my dismay.
And I guess that brings me to one of the BIGGEST differences. SPOILER ALERT!!! AVERT YOUR EYES ALL YE WHO WISH TO REMAIN UNSPOILED!!!
Okay. So in the book, it is revealed that Eli is actually Elias, a beautiful boy who was castrated at a very young age and turned into a vampire. The Swedish film deals with this quite succinctly, by showing a close up of Eli’s nude pelvic region. Talk about show, don’t tell! In the American film, nothing is done and we are simply allowed to believe that Abby is and always has been a girl. (Both films include Eli/Abby saying the line, "would you still like me if I weren't a girl?" but whether that refers to her gender or her non-human status isn't explained.)
OKAY SAFE TO COME BACK!
Both films preserve the way that she finally dies: in a ball of flame ignited by sunshine. However, the Swedish film stays faithful to the book and portrays her death as a peaceful suicide, whereas the American film shows her essentially dying by accident as someone opens a window.
There’s also some genuinely creepy stuff in the book about vampire physiology: Eli is shown growing claws, fangs, and wings and Virginia feels that her heart is growing an extra BRAIN. (So that explains the whole stake through the heart thing.) In both films, all of this is cut. The only small references to it are when Eli scales the hospital wall to visit Hakan and when Oskar asks her how she got into his room, she says “I flew.” In the book, Eli is also able to project her memories into Oskar’s mind by kissing him. This is hinted at in the Swedish film, where Eli looks intently at Oskar and says, “be me for a little while.” The American film cuts it completely.
Another MAJOR deletion in both films is Tommy, a high school boy who lives in Oskar's apartment complex. Tommy and Oskar are both growing up without fathers, but Tommy's mom is dating an aggressive and boorish police officer. Tommy gets into mischief, selling stolen items and sniffing glue in the basement. And Tommy is a part of that certain basement scene that I'm not mentioning and don't ever want to think about again. I can kind of see why they cut Tommy, as well as many of the over-the-top gruesome scenes. The book has time to develop nuance and subtlety so it can afford a little horrific gore. The movie only has two hours. I think that by cutting the gore, the movie was able to achieve that same emotional, quiet tone.
The Swedish movie, I should say. The American film achieves nothing of the sort.
In another major turning point, Oskar warns Eli of an intruder in her home. When Virginia dies, her boyfriend (one of the regulars) decides to seek retribution by becoming a vampire killer. He enters Eli's home and finds her sleeping in a bathtub...FILLED WITH BLOOD. Both films altered this scene, instead showing Eli/Abby asleep nestled in blankets. In the Swedish film (and the book) Oskar warns Eli, so that she can wake up and kill the intruder. In the American film, the intruder is not Virginia's boyfriend, but a police officer and Abby is awakened by his uncovering of one of the windows and burning her face. Owen is present, but it's definitely not as poignant.
In the end scene, Oskar is rescued by Eli from a group of his bullies. He's in the school gymnasium, doing water aerobics (or practicing freestyle in the American version = much more manly) when a group of his bullies come in and basically attempt to murder him by drowning. Eli raps at the window and one of the boys, nervous about what's happening to Oskar, tells her that she can come in. The Swedish film shows the entire scene from Oskar's POV underwater, and I thought that was a nice way of getting around it. Eli could have asked to come in; we just didn't hear it. The American film just shows her busting in. Both films show Oskar underwater during the attack, but in the Swedish film his eyes are closed (as detached hands float by). When he's released, he surfaces and sees Eli, then smiles sweetly at her.
In the American film, his eyes are OPEN as several body parts plus a couple of detached HEADS float by! He pops up, sees Abby, and does a little wobbly nervous smile. It feels like every ounce of meaning is just drained from that scene. In the book, there is one surviving boy, who is also shown in the Swedish film. In the American film, they all die.
One thing that I really missed from the ending of both films is that the one remaining boy (RIP American film's one remaining boy) later goes on to tell the police that Oskar was saved by "an angel." I loved that! I think that it really illustrates what Lindqvist was trying to say, about how morally grey we all are, and how much of our "goodness" is just based on perception. It would have been hard to show this in either movie, and would probably have dragged out the ending, but I still missed it.
However, both films include an end scene where Oskar and Eli communicate using Morse code through the walls of the steamer trunk she's stashed in as they run away together on a train. I loved that little addition in both and was surprised that that didn't come from the book.
So in conclusion, I rate the Swedish film: