Moriarty Sits Down With Tomas Alfredson, Director Of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN!
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here. A hotel on a side street a few blocks from where the main Tower Records on Sunset used to be. Mid-morning, but early for me, especially since I’m driving in from Northridge to do these things now. I’m one of a series of people to sit down for a few minutes with a director I hadn’t heard of before two months ago, a filmmaker who may very well have landed a film on my ten best list already. I’m excited to be meeting him, and I hope this is just the first of many films of his that are worth discussion in years to come. Be warned. We touch on a few spoilers, including one point that is ambiguous in the movie, but which he makes explicit in conversation: Moriarty: Just got back in from Austin, where I saw the film the first time at Fantastic Fest, and I’ve seen it again now. I think it’s exceptional.
Tomas Alfredson: Really? Thank you.
Moriarty: You have a knack for directing children, and it’s one of those skill sets I think a director either has, or never will. The kids you found are remarkable. Can you talk about the process of getting these wise adult performances out of them?
Tomas Alfredson: Yeah... those two kids are... it took nearly a year to find them. We don’t really have professional children actors in Sweden, so we had to have open castings to find... to find children. And my instinct is that if kids actors are too good or too polished, or if they’ve been trained too much, it won’t work on film. You have to have some sort of natural spirit to do good film acting. This was also complicated, because I had to find a couple. Not just one plus one. It had to be a couple. My thought is that, uh, they are the same character. Two sides of the same character. They are mirrors of each other, these two children. He’s bright, she’s dark. She’s strong, he’s weak. And so on. So they had to be each other’s... uh... what do you say?
Tomas Alfredson: Yes. Opposites. So that was quite complicated, and then, ummm... there’s this thing that Eli is... a former boy. It’s a boy from the beginning. So that person would have to be a little... androgyne? How do you say?
Tomas Alfredson: Androgynous.
Moriarty: It’s interesting that you treat that almost as subtext in the movie. Talking to people after seeing it, there was a lot of disagreement about what that meant and whether we were picking up the right things.
Tomas Alfredson: Yeah. He was castrated almost 100 years ago. That’s the backstory.
Moriarty: That makes sense.
Tomas Alfredson: There was a scene where we had bits and pieces of it, but it let out too much of the backstory to show that. So now it’s just the one quick glimpse of Eli’s genitals or non-genitals.
Moriarty: We always hear that America is where we have the school shootings or school violence, or kids who just emotionally implode for whatever reason. But watching this, I get the feeling that Oskar is close. That the bullying has been so constant and so extreme that he’s very close to becoming a monster himself. Then he meets this “real” monster who pulls him back from the edge. So there’s something to the film, about the idea of feeling powerless in the world. Did you approach this as a horror film, or is the genre incidental?
Tomas Alfredson: For me, it’s the love story. This is a love story with horror elements woven into it. And look, there are lots of stories about the bullied boy or the bullied girl getting tormented in school or wherever, and they are like... they become like Jesus. They are very proud, very clean, very stoic. They sit somewhere in the evening and they cry. But my belief is that if you are bullied, you get very, very angry. So to me, the character is... she is his anger in the shape of a person. And I would think he would be a very dangerous person, this Oskar, in the future. Or in the near future, if he doesn’t find a way through this. So... it’s quite simple. If you give love to a child, that child will be quite loving. If you give anger to a child, that child will be very angry. It’s very simple mathematics, this.
Moriarty: Was I correct? It seemed that there were a few moments where an adult steps in to play Eli? And I mean quick moments, almost subliminal.
Tomas Alfredson: Twice it is.
Moriarty: It’s very unsettling You’re not sure what you’re looking at.
Tomas Alfredson: And at some points, it’s CGI, when she’s very hungry.
Moriarty: There are little touches, like when she comes off the bars the first time...
Tomas Alfredson: Where is that?
Moriarty: When she first meets Oskar on the playground and she’s standing on top, then she jumps down. There’s something about the way she jumps and lands...
Tomas Alfredson: The film has a lot of tricks. There is CGI, but it’s used very, very subtle. I think CGI is a fantastic world, but it’s too often in too blunt hands. You could, for example... you do a car explosion, and someone says, “Okay, let’s do a car explosion, and it has to explode for five minutes.” It never ends. But you could also make it a little small one, which is realistic, and it gives the film, uhhhh... more... more self-confident. It’s used, CGI is used very, very subtle in this film, and very sensitive. I think we have almost 50 CGI shots.
Moriarty: The invisibility of them is what sells it. You just end up unnerved by that little girl.
Tomas Alfredson: Mmm-hmm.
Moriarty: There’s something off about the movements and the behaviors, and that’s... overall, the things I was most taken with in the film are your choices about what you do not show.
Tomas Alfredson: Yeah.
Moriarty: I haven’t read the book, but I will read it immediately. How involved were you in the adaptation, and how did you work out your plan about how much or how little to actually show?
Tomas Alfredson: It’s all about keeping the audience active. Today, too much entertainment is all about somebody sitting for 40 seconds and watching a YouTube clip. And if they’re not interesting enough, you fall asleep after 20 seconds. So it’s all about... the film being the active one and the audience being the passive one. But really good filmmaking should be about having a dialogue. So... and that’s where framing comes in. Framing is about framing into the shot, or framing out. And if you frame out somebody talking... “Somebody’s talking. Who is it? Is it a radio? Is it a grown-up? Who is it?” And you wait for a minute or two and then you see. Oh, it’s a radio or whatever. So the framing is very very important to make the audience make their own images. The audience’s own images are almost always the strongest ones.
Moriarty: Especially with this kind of material. So many of these films love to rub your face in things. I love that in your film, I’m haunted by what I didn’t see, almost like Oskar would be.
Tomas Alfredson: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Moriarty: You know what just happened, but...
Tomas Alfredson: (laughs)
Moriarty: And I want to say... part of me wants to just avoid talking or writing about the remake at all. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why it has to happen. As the filmmaker, is there any sense of outrage or offense on your end?
Tomas Alfredson: Obviously I am not involved in that at all, and I really don’t know why it would be made. I usually say that bad films, you can remake...
Moriarty: I agree.
Tomas Alfredson: ... so you can explore an idea, get it right. To me, this becomes almost some sort of criticism of my movie.
Moriarty: It smacks of xenophobia. Like we don’t believe Americans can handle subtitles.
Tomas Alfredson: I really don’t know what to say. Maybe they will find something in the book I haven’t seen. So... so... I really don’t know.
Moriarty: What are you doing next?
Tomas Alfredson: I’m planning to do a comedy onstage in Stockholm.
Moriarty: Is that your background? Theater?
Tomas Alfredson: No. Mostly film and television, but I do some stagework, too. I just made a musical in Stockholm, a production of MY FAIR LADY. We opened last week, and it was, uh... a big success. So I do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
Moriarty: So then you won’t necessarily work in this genre again?
Tomas Alfredson: I don’t know. Maybe.
Moriarty: But in this case, it was the specific material that attracted you, not some burning itch to do a horror film.
Tomas Alfredson: I am very much like a fish. I have a short, uh... I don’t plan my career out at all. Any time I fall into some interesting material, I’ll do that, and if it’s comedy or a drama or whatever, I don’t care. (reaches out and taps the cover of my paperback copy of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN) And this is a great book. You really should read it.
Moriarty: Oh, I can’t wait. Have you been able to attend the festivals where LET THE RIGHT ONE IN has been playing?
Tomas Alfredson: Some of them. Some of them. It’s fantastic to come to America to listen to the audience, because the audience is very... they’re very loud. They sigh and they laugh and, and... they sound. In Sweden, it’s dead quiet. You don’t know if they...
Moriarty: Oh, god, that would terrify me as a filmmaker.
Tomas Alfredson: (laughs) So it’s very nice to listen to the American audience.
Moriarty: Is this open already in Sweden?
Tomas Alfredson: No, it’s simultaneously released in Scandanavia and the US. So it’s about to come out.
Moriarty: Well, I wish you all the best with it.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is open now in limited release, and should be expanding in the next few weeks. Keep your eyes open for it. It’s a true original.
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Oct. 26, 2008, 6:57 p.m. CST
by dr sauch
Best of 2008, IMO Also, First?
Oct. 26, 2008, 6:59 p.m. CST
by dr sauch
Oct. 26, 2008, 7:33 p.m. CST
by drew mcweeny
... so would I if I had more than 12 minutes. You make do with what you have.
Oct. 26, 2008, 7:38 p.m. CST
This film definitely deserves the raves its getting. A classic in its own right, it's a chilling yet sweet ride that leaves you satisfied.
Oct. 26, 2008, 8:28 p.m. CST
I always though that Eli was sexually abused at some point her life, but I NEVER would have guessed she was once a boy. I've only seen the film once and it was five months ago at Tribeca, so I'm sure with another viewing things may be more clear. What was your opinion based on that quick shot, Moriarty?
Oct. 26, 2008, 8:40 p.m. CST
The movie doesn't say much of this at all, and it's very easy to miss. Read the book though, it explains the whole thing a lot more thoroughly. Also, it's a great read.
Oct. 26, 2008, 8:57 p.m. CST
by Serious Black
...I'm just sayin', it's a weird title.
Oct. 26, 2008, 9:33 p.m. CST
by dr sauch
I'm just a little obsessed with this movie right now. I'm going to read the book.
Oct. 26, 2008, 10:42 p.m. CST
..going to get a "wide" release? Seriously. I want to see it.
Oct. 27, 2008, 12:53 a.m. CST
I caught this last night. Very understated and visually memorable. SPOILERS I did not get that castration angle at all. When she said she wasn't a girl, I just assumed that she meant a vampire isn't really human. As for that quick flash of nude Eli, there really wasn't enough time for me to assess it. It was so quick that I thought that's what prepubescent vampire girl parts might look like. I had another question - who was the guy that Eli was originally with? At first I thought Eli must be a recent vampire and that he was "her" father. A century of time's passage would imply that he might be playing the role that Oskar might play in another fifty years. That left me questioning why he's such a sloppy killer. Was his enthusiasm waning such that he was becoming subconsciously self-sabotaging? END SPOILERS Anyway, it was an interesting, well-told story, and I liked that the film alone left some elements ambiguous. I want to check out that novel, though.
Oct. 27, 2008, 12:53 a.m. CST
...for the interview. Enjoyed it.
Oct. 27, 2008, 1:27 a.m. CST
SPOILERS! In the book you get a full backstory on Eli's "father". He's a pedophile teacher that gets outed some years before the events in the book/film and Eli finds him when he is down and out, and makes him a servant of sorts with an implied and never fullfilled promise of a sexual relationship. He does what he does because he loves Eli and sometimes get to sleep next to him/her and hopes to one day realise his love to him/her. Eli it seems has no intent of ever letting that happen but kind of strings him along to get what she/he needs: Someone who can act as an adult caretaker as to not raise suspicion and to help get blood so Eli doesn't risk getting outed. I got tickets to see it tonight and I can't wait to re-read the book again, this is great horror!
Oct. 27, 2008, 4:55 a.m. CST
The novel is just outstanding, and actually made me cringe from the uncomfortable pedophile parts, I can't wait to see how they pulled this off in the film.Can some one tell me if Hakan drops acid on his face in the movie and become a vampire/zombie???
Oct. 27, 2008, 7:57 a.m. CST
by The Marquis de Side 3
essentially the story about the vampire is one of loss and love, hope and fantasy, violent release of rage and a whole lot of loneliness. I like this film a lot more over any vampire movie I've ever seen. if you watch it, you'll find yourself connecting to it in ways you often don't in films. It's a true expression of growing up and the challenges of adolescence, the weirdness of preteen youth and youth culture (school, parents, home friends), and the difficulty of being loved. I honestly think this film is the best vampire film ever made because it is not an action film -- it is a drama, with funny moments. it's about two people who want to be together, but think they can't. and it is so full of stillness and silence and snow that it will actually warm you. I guess the only way quality work can be made is if it comes out of Europe. if this had been an American big-budget studio film, it would have been crap (not looking forward to remake)...
Oct. 27, 2008, 9:58 a.m. CST
thanks for clearing that up, I actually had the same questions as DarthCorleone. I just saw it two days ago and it's a great movie. I would say though, I think it may be getting overhyped now. All the amazing things people are saying about this movie are true. For me, there are a few things that kept it from being the masterpiece people say it. This movie is a character study more than a thriller or horror movie, and in movies like this, it's never about the actual plot and more about the characters' relationships, which of course was remarkably well done. However the plot that was there, sometimes didn't stack up to the quality of the rest of the movie. The bully angle worked really well setting up the character, but after it was seemingly resolved at the lake, i kept thinking why we were still folowing this bully thread? It leads to the great scene at the end, but what did it have to say about the characters? The side characters who are trying to find who killed their friend Jocke is interesting, but a definite step down from the main storyline. The brief scenes following the bitten lady are again interesting, but didn't amount to anything since she wasn't a character I really cared about. I did feel some sympathy for her boyfriend though, as he was given a little more to work with. Anyway, just a few points. Everybody should see this movie without a doubt, but be cautious of the mounting hype surrounding this. Not a masterpiece, it's just a very, very good movie.
Oct. 27, 2008, 2:10 p.m. CST
JackLint>> Well said. When I think about it, I do have the same reservations that kept the film from complete greatness. As a whole, though, it still worked for me.<br><br>SPOILERS jebus>> Yes, Hakan pours acid on himself, but he did not become a vampire or zombie. Now you've got me curious about that angle in the book. END SPOILERS
Oct. 27, 2008, 2:53 p.m. CST
by dr sauch
Oct. 27, 2008, 2:54 p.m. CST
by dr sauch
I want to read it myself, and will eventually. I'm mid first-semester at law school, so pleasure reading is not really an option. What is the backstory with the castration? Why did they castrate him? Was it pre or post vampire?
Oct. 27, 2008, 4:21 p.m. CST
BOOK SPOILER Eli was castrated by the vampire who then sired him back in olden times, pre vampire. It isn't really explained, what I got was that the evil vampire ruled the land and the people had to offer up their children to him. He cut of their penises and drank their blood. I can't remember if it then describes Eli becoming a vampire or not... HERE ENDETH THE BOOK SPOILERS-ETH.
Oct. 27, 2008, 4:50 p.m. CST
by dr sauch
Appreciated. Can't wait to read this.
Oct. 27, 2008, 10:38 p.m. CST
From what I can tell, there are some significant parts lacking from the movie which would have delivered a little bit more of a frightening aspect to the film. I can't wait to see it still, but it kinda bums me out that Hakan as a vampire/zombie has been left out.
Oct. 28, 2008, 1:58 p.m. CST
I saw this last night and when Eli says she's not a girl you just think that she means she's a vampire. And that less than a second flash of her downstairs is so fleeting that all you see is hair and what might be some kind of scar. But then it is never again addressed so it's a totally lost moment. The film is excellent, but it sounds like the filmmaker should have left this idea from the book out of the film. It just doesn't bring anything to the movie as is. But other than that it is a wonderful movie with excellent subtle CGI... except the cats. The cats look terrible, but only in that one scene. You'll know when you see it.
Nov. 3, 2008, 2 p.m. CST
by Brannagins Law
Nov. 9, 2008, 3:09 a.m. CST
How small this talkback is. See this movie, guys and gals!!! It's one of the best "vampire" flicks ever made. It's quiet, yet loud... subtle, but in your face... moving and emotional, yet distant... A true piece of art that had me laughing, crying and longing for an age I'll never be able to get back to. Best movie I've seen in a long, long time.
Nov. 15, 2008, 4:24 p.m. CST
finally saw it last night at a packed show. Absolutely wonderful film!
Nov. 19, 2008, 10:36 a.m. CST
Why does he look like a girl in the movie, and was his appearance described as feminine in the book?
Jan. 16, 2009, 4 p.m. CST
I agree with your well-stated points, JackLint. The moive is very, very good, but not perfect for those reasons. I also had the same reaction as DarthCorleone to the ambiguous crotch reveal of Eli. I just figured that was a representation of inhuman vampire privates. Not knowing the castration backstory didn't bother me though. I actually liked leaving the movie with some questions unanswered. It added to the implied reality of the world depicted. Showing flashback shots of the vampires backstory would have disrupted the realistic, present day atmosphere of the film. The CG was good, except for the few crappy cat shots.... as -guyinthebackrow mentioned...
June 14, 2009, 8:31 p.m. CST
Eli does dress like a girl in the book and wears his hair long - other characters upon first meeting him see him as anything from a pretty girl to being unsure about his gender, but not as a boy. I think this angle should have been made a little clearer in the film - it's an integral part of Eli's condition as traumatised, diseased, abnormal but still fundamentally human, and it's a big part of Oskar's unconditional acceptance of him. I agree with the criticisms of the cats scene, but still think the film was absolutely brilliant - the acting, the score, the photography, etc.
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