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John DoughertyOctober 13, 2023
A photo of a red eyeball, with a face shrouded in darknessPhoto: D-Keine/ Unsplash

The Catholic Movie Club is a short weekly essay pulling out spiritual themes in our favorite films. You can discuss the movies with other readers in the comments on this page or in our Facebook group. Find past Catholic Movie Club selections here.

Vampires are complicated monsters. They embody so many of our fears: mortality, sexuality, addiction, even the primal terror of being prey. But they’re also fantasy objects: powerful, sensual, uninhibited, undying. Vampire movies often invite us to view them with a mix of fear and envy.

This week’s Catholic Move Club selection takes a different approach. “Let the Right One In” (2008), a Swedish film directed by Tomas Alfredson and written by John Ajvide Lindqvist (adapted from his novel), posits that being a vampire must actually be very lonely. And, perhaps, that’s the thing that makes them most human.

“Let the Right One In” is about loneliness, the type society imposes on us and the type we impose on ourselves.

When we first meet 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) he’s alone in his room, pressing his hand against the window as if his reflection might have some warmth to share. His isolation eases when a new neighbor moves into the apartment next door. Eli appears to be a girl his age. (Eli’s gender is ambiguous; they are portrayed by Lina Leandersson, but their voice is overdubbed by Elif Ceylan). Eli and Oskar quickly form a bond. But Eli’s more than a little strange: They never go out in daylight, they sometimes smell funny and a rash of murders and disappearances accompanies their arrival. Eli eventually admits that they’ve been 12 years old “for a long time.” But a gentle, unexpected romance blossoms between these two lonely souls, and as the film goes on, they become willing to risk everything to protect it.

“Let the Right One In” is about loneliness, the type society imposes on us and the type we impose on ourselves. Eli doesn’t allow themself close relationships because of their perilous way of life and insatiable thirst. “Just so you know, I can’t be your friend,” Eli warns Oskar when they first meet. Oskar, bullied at school and aching from his parents’ divorce, isn’t eager to trust someone new either. They’ve both learned that it’s safer to be alone.

But they do connect. We are made for relationship. Indeed, our faith tells us that relationships are an essential element of how we come to know God and discover our ultimate purpose. Jesus told his disciples: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). That sentiment was echoed by Dorothy Day, who knew “the long loneliness” very well: “We cannot love God unless we love each other and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore.”

Opening our hearts to another is a risk because it makes us vulnerable. “Let the Right One In” finds a potent metaphor for this in the rules of vampirism: Eli cannot enter a home without first being invited inside. Every time Oskar does, it’s with the knowledge that Eli might hurt or kill him. It’s not so different for us: We open our hearts and take the risk of getting hurt because that is who we are called to be. It’s one of the earliest statements about humanity you find in the Bible: “The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). We were made to be together.

“Let the Right One In” is very sweet for a story featuring multiple murders and dismemberments. Beneath the film’s cold, pale skin is a warm core: a belief that being together is what makes life worth living. Eternal life means little if you don’t have anyone to share it with.

“Let the Right One In” is streaming on Prime Video, Fubo and the Hoopla and Kanopy apps (which may be available through your local library). It is also streaming free with ads on Peacock, the Roku Channel, Vudu and Tubi, and is available to rent or buy on Apple TV+ and Google Play.

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