Why 17 days? Because 17 is my favorite number.
Let me see if I can explain.
Years ago, when I was younger, it was all too easy for me to fall into the mainstream male’s obsession with sex goddesses. Objectifying posters of beautiful women graced the walls of my dorm room, and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was required reading. I grew past that, of course, and today my perspective has changed with regards to the so-called sex symbol. There are many actresses in film who are indeed beautiful, but I am not stimulated by the way they look; I am instead stimulated by the characters they play.
For instance, I don't really have a “strong attraction” to Meg Ryan, although she is beautiful, but any time I watch When Harry Met Sally, I find Sally Albright very attractive. Meg Ryan is a talented actress and gives such a charming and honest performance that I feel as if I know Sally Albright and feel fortunate that I do. Other movie characters that I was attracted to in college include:
--Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) in Raiders of the Lost Ark–-tough, resourceful, minimal bullshit, but not so strong-willed that she forgets how to be a woman.
--Tracy Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only Bond woman so dynamic that 007 retires from the service and marries her.
--Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton) in the 1987-89 TV series Beauty and the Beast, smart and principled with reserves of tenderness that allow her to see past Vincent’s appearance to his poetic soul.
With all due respect to Ms. Allen, Ms. Rigg, and Ms. Hamilton, the actresses were not the ones that interested me. Rather, I was attracted to the characters they played, for the fictional manifestations of their performances, and for their ability to pull me into a story and see myself in their male counterparts.
This is what is often overlooked in most sex symbols. We don’t fall in love with celebrities themselves; we fall in love with personas. We are attracted to our own potential, which we believe would come out in the presence of these characters. This isn't just a sexual thing either. There are certain male characters I'd love to hang out with: Bruce Willis's John MaClane (only in the first Die Hard movie), Mel Gibson's William Wallace, even Gerard Butler's Gerry in the chick flick P.S. I Love You (what a cool guy he is). When we go to movies, we are not paying to see a certain actor or actress; we are wagering the price of a ticket that we will experience a moment when a talented performer meets a well-written character. That's movie magic.
Which brings us back to this issue of 12-year-old Lina Leandersson and the message board poster’s “strong attraction” to her.
I myself believe otherwise.
I believe it was not Lina Leandersson but Eli, the character she plays, that touched something in his heart … because Eli touched something in mine. I found Eli to be haunting and unforgettable, appealing yet tragic, and that is what makes Lina Leandersson’s performance so special.
For those of you who have not seen Let the Right One In, it is a love story of sorts between two lonely children: a 12-year-old boy named Oskar (Kare Hedebrandt) who is so brutally bullied at school that he retreats into homicidal revenge fantasies; and Eli, who appears to be a 12-year-old girl but is really a 200-year-old vampire (there is much more to her, but that is one of the movies best-kept secrets). What starts out as a series of casual conversations outside their block flat grows into a cautious friendship, arousing within Oskar and Eli a hunger for connection.
It must be stated that Eli is not a sexualized creature for reasons that go well beyond her vampirism. However, because of her unique situation, she has been forced to call upon her sexuality numerous times in order to survive. Although an immortal, Eli still has the same vulnerabilities as other vampires, such as not being able to come out in the daylight (she won’t sparkle like Edward Cullen; she’ll burst into flames). At the same time, she is trapped in the body of a child. Finding a place to sleep and an adult to protect her is no easy task.
When we first meet Eli, she is traveling with Hakan (Per Ragnar), a broken, withered old man with the kind of unhealthy appetites that turns our stomachs. Hakan clearly desires Eli (in the book, he believes he is in love with her), and Eli keeps him at bay with the promise of sexual favors provided he do her bidding. This bidding not only entails proofing their apartment from the sun and guarding Eli during the day, but also the unsavory task of stalking and murdering victims for Eli, draining their blood so she does not have to go on the hunt herself (the main reason for this is so that Eli will not create other vampires; when she is forced to do her own hunting, she violently twists her victim’s head off after feeding before she can infect the entire body).
As unsettling as this may sound, the film is actually quite beautiful, handling its more violent elements with grace and aesthetic distance while keeping its focus on this friendship between Oskar and Eli. Eli does awful things, but she is not a monster. She is a fractured soul who has forgotten how it feels to love and be loved. Likewise, although Oskar’s homicidal ideations are frightening at first, his eyes flicker with such loneliness that we realize he has not been lost just yet.
It was because of this connection that I totally welcomed Eli into the story.
I saw Eli as Oskar saw her, and I sensed his great relief when he came to realize that there was another in the world who wanted to understand him. We have all craved this kind of intimacy in our lives at one time or another, but at the tender age of 12, that unsteady precipice before puberty, our desire for a connection is almost painful. What person wouldn’t be attracted to Eli? She is like that perfect invisible friend.
When I was 12, I would have gone to the ends of the earth for someone like Eli to come into my life. In fact, while watching Let the Right One In, I was reminded of the scary stories my brothers told me when I was child, tales of a girl named Patty who had allegedly died in our house and whose ghost dwelt in our attic. Rather than being terrified, I imagined that Patty’s spirit would come down into my room at night to play with me.
That is what I thought when this film introduced me to Eli.
Of course I was attracted to her, not as an unstable adult to a child, but as the fragile 12-year-old who sometimes still lives inside, a vulnerable little boy who would have loved to have a friend like her. My favorite passage from the book elaborates on Oskar's feelings, something I think anyone can relate to:
Eli turned her face to Oskar’s, said:
She closed her mouth. Then pressed a kiss on Oskar’s lips.
For a few seconds, Oskar saw through Eli’s eyes. And what he saw was … himself. Only much better, more handsome, stronger than what he thought of himself. Seen with love.
For a few seconds.
We see our best selves through their eyes.
Because of the film’s ability to make me see myself in its story, I felt an intense connection to Eli well after the film had ended. That, I think, is what the message board poster was trying to say. Not that he lusted after a 12-year-old girl, but that he remembered what it was like to be a child, to be alone, to feel advancing changes of puberty on the horizon, and to look at someone your own age, to feel those first pangs of attraction, and wonder how it would feel if the two of you were friends.
That doesn’t mean he is a pederast. That means that where he was concerned, the movie worked its magic.
And isn’t magic what we’re all looking for anyway?
Previous Days of Halloween:
Day 1 – Baby’s Breath
Day 2 – Phantom of the Paradise
Day 3 – The Shining (miniseries)
Day 4 – 28 Days Later
Day 5 – 28 Weeks Later
Day 6 – Dawn of the Dead (original)
Day 7 – Dawn of the Dead (remake)
Day 8 – The Howling
Day 9 – Saló or the 120 Days of Sodom
Day 10 – Romper Stomper
Day 11 – The Valley of Gwangi
Day 12 – Kolchak: The Night Stalker (entire series)
Day 13 – The Hills Have Eyes (original)
Day 14 – The Hills Have Eyes (remake)