Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Let Me In

In the lives of parents and their children inevitably comes a time—difficult to measure—when parents discover they can no longer control and protect their children. It is not simply a matter of adolescent rebellion. It is more that as children become increasingly self-determined, they begin to make choices independently. Next to the influences of friends and the attractions of the world, the parents’ influence wanes. Parents who see this time coming may try to protect against it with advice and instruction. They may see what the child cannot—the dark possibilities of the world, troubles, predation, evil. In the end the child as an independent soul will stand or fall on his or her own.

Let Me In (2010; dir. Matt Reeves) is about this moment in the life of a child. His name is Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). He is physically immature, and boys at school bully him over his small size and his trebling voice. His parents are recently divorced, and his father lives elsewhere. The boy is obviously disturbed by his parents’ split, but we see this mainly through the solitude of his life, and through one phone call he makes to his father. His mother is an ardent Christian who tries to protect her son against evil, but mostly she is wrapped up in her own miseries, and she leaves her son on his own. The boy is lonely and even depressed. He needs a friend.

Evil is one of the issues in Let Me In. Set during the years of the Reagan administration, the film offers an early scene in which the president speaks on television about the presence of evil in the world.

The boy strikes up a friendship with a girl his own age, Abby (Chloe Moretz). He meets her on the playground at night outside the apartment complex where he lives. She has just moved in next door. She is cold and distant at first, but gradually a friendship develops. Although Owen needs a friend, it turns out that she needs him even more. Abby appears to be in every way a young girl. She enjoys talking with Owen, she enjoys the Rubic’s Cube he lends her, and she tells him that she likes solving puzzles. She obviously enjoys Owen’s companionship. We rarely see the man she lives with, maybe her father, just as we rarely see the boy’s mother.

I don’t enjoy vampire films. The typical vampire film seduces with its appeal to adolescent and immature desire for otherness. In this film, vampires act as vampires usually do, but there is a significant twist to the standard formula. For one thing, vampire activity openly figures in only a few scenes. In fact, the vampires of Let Me In are incidental to the film’s interest in the loneliness of the boy, his need to reach out and take hold of whatever might give him solace and love, even if what he takes hold of is evil. He is seduced not by the vampire’s hypnotic attractions, but by his need for love, companionship, connections. Towards the end of the film, in a moment of despair, he calls his father on the phone and asks him if there is such a thing as evil. The father does not know what to make of the question. The boy’s parents can do nothing for him—they’re hardly aware.

Let Me In is a somber, moody film noir. It takes place almost entirely at night. The acting by Smit-McPhee and Moretz is very fine. The film’s point of view is Owen, and our concern for him grows throughout the film. Our concern might initially be that he will fall victim to a vampire, but finally what endangers him is something deeper and more disturbing , and the film’s ending confirms our anxieties. Even if you don’t relish vampires, this film is worth viewing.

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