Absurdism and Vampires

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The 2010 American Version of Let The Right One In was directed by Matt Reeves, and stared Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moret.

Life is made up of moments when one questions their choices. Life is made up of habits that turn into routines. Life is filled with questions that are unanswered. Life is just encompassed with darkness that in circles us, and never lets go. John Ajvide Lindquvist wrote the phenomenal international bestseller, Let the Right One In, which was later adapted into an American film called, Let Me In. Let the Right One In has multiple subplots that lead into one big one, which involves a 12-year-old vampire, who befriends a badly bullied 12-year-old human boy. Within the novel, the vampire is describing to have “Samuel Beckett’s eyes and Audrey Hepburn’s face,” which is important for the eyes are evidently the windows to the soul (108). Samuel Beckett is a famous absurdist playwright, who wrote about endlessly waiting that continues to be endless, and a world without the presence of God and hope. Lindqvist’s novel can be classified as an absurd literary work. Absurd pieces of works, like Lindqvist’s novel and the American film adaption, consist of anti-characters, anti-language, anti-drama, and anti-plot.

After World War II, Martin Esslin developed the theatre of the absurd when he realized common approaches towards humandilemmas in literary works. The concept deals with “humanity’s plight as purposelessness in an existence out of harmony with its surroundings” (Barranger). Absurdist writers expressed this in their writings. In their writing, they do not debate about life’s absurdities, yet they point them out. They express the absurdities through dramatic metaphor in the language, the movements, and the stage props. The purpose of the theatre of the absurd is to present the audience with something impactful, which can be “a single overwhelming powerful image, composed of starting visual elements, strange murmurs of subdued voices in dim half-light, and the magical effect of the relentless flow of poetic phrasing and rich images” (Barranger). One does not need to understand the entire play, but be impacted by one of the elements above. The theatre of the absurd displays life’s pointlessness and senselessness (Barranger). Aburdism deals with the idea of not having a God, or religion, and what that would mean for humans. Life would be without harmony and no answer to our questions. Different people can view the concept of absurdism differently. Absurdism can deal with not having a sense of time and space, which does not truly exist. One has to be present in the now. Life could be seen as meaningless, but life could be seen to actually have meaning as well. However, for life to have meaning, one must look past human consciousness. Then again absurdist are trying to find the point for living for no one truly knows it (Cornwell). Ironically, we are all born to die and we all die to live. This fact is terrifying, which makes the concept of absurdism come together nicely with horror.

Within an absurd piece of work, the characters have “curious and grotesque personalities on the stages from the beginning to the end” (Zhu). Their qualities are shaped by their “hopelessness to life and society” (Zhu). They have qualities that are repeated and have a routine. In Lindqvist’s novel, each character has some characteristic that makes them unruly, strange, and repulsive. Hakan murders people to drain them of their blood for Eli. He does it by stalking his victim like an animal stalking his prey. Once he gets his victim, he knocks them out with halothane gas, ties them upside down, and cuts the victim’s jugular. While the blood flows from the victim’s neck, Hakan catches it into a container. After this, Hakan attempts to depose of the body, and returns home with the jug of blood. Hakan uses the money that is given to him to go to an area for child prostitution. There he pays little boys for sexual favors. When Hakan is about to get caught by the police, he pours acid on his face, so he will be unrecognizable and lead the authorities back to Eli. He was described to have no face.

The man’s nose had completely burned away leaving only two holes in his head. The         mouth had melted together, the lips sealed with the exception of a small opening in one corner. One eye had melted down over what had been his cheek, but the other…the other was wide-open…pieces of cartilage and bone sticking out between irregular shreds of flesh… (141)

Eli is the impediment of a grotesque character, because he is a vampire. As a vampire, he has to drink human blood to survive, his facial features change when he is feeding, and if he is not invited inside a building blood will pour from his pours. Not only is Eli being a vampire is strange, but apparently his sexually orientation is questioning. However, Eli describes himself as ‘nothing’.

“No, I don’t…but Oskar, I can’t. I’m not a girl.”

Oskar snorted. “What do you mean? You’re a guy?

“No, no,”

“Then what are you?”

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?”

“I’m nothing. Not a child. Not old. Not a boy. Not a girl. Nothing.” (170-171)

 

Eli looks like a girl, but was originally a boy, but had his male genital cut off. This idea is horrifying and graphic making the audience pity the strange monster. Oskar’s characteristic that makes him strange is his obsession with murder, and him pretending to be a murderer. He has a scrapbook that contains various newspaper cuttings about murders. Oskar dreams about witnessing a murder.

That was one of Oskar’s dreams: to see someone executed in the electric chair. He had read that the blood started to boil, the body contorted itself in impossible angles. (18)

As well as, he pretends to be a murder himself. Oskar would use a knife and stab a tree pretending it to be his victim. These are worrisome traits for a 12-year-old boy. In the film adaptation, the characters are similar to the novel, but some are less grotesque. The Father (Hakan) is still a murder, but does not express sexual desires. He is more like a caretaker for Abby (Eli). Abby (Eli) is still seen as a monster, but they do not touch base with her sexual orientation. Owen (Oskar) is still into pretending to be a murderer. However, instead of Owen (Oskar) being into murders and murderers, he is a peeping tom. After he eats dinner every night, Owen (Oskar) spies on his neighbors. This is not a very good quality to have. It is a gross habit.

The language in absurd stories is in disorder, irregular, and obscured. It can be expressed through various images that hold a specific meaning. Even speech signs, such as words, can hold various profound meanings (Barthes). One character may ask a specific answer, but the other character would not answer the question properly. The language shows “the darkness of reality in modern society” (Zhu). In the novel, when dealing with love Eli is never direct. Eli is indirect with his feelings towards Hakan.

“What do you need me for anyway?”

“I love you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes. In a way.”

“There is no such thing. You either love someone or you don’t.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“In that case I have to think about it.” (59)

Eli is being indirect and naïve by not understanding what love is. Hakan hides his identity by throwing acid on his face, burning it until he is unrecognizable. With both the novel and the film adaptation, disorder is evident by how the community reacted towards the murders. In the novel, Oskar’s mother consistently worries for his well-being. While in the film, the school stresses about the children’s safety. Another thing that causes an imbalance in both storylines is the fact that vampires are supposedly among us.

Owen (Oskar): Are you a vampire?

Abby (Eli): I need blood to live.

Owen (Oskar): But how old are you, really?

Abby (Eli): Twelve. But… I’ve been twelve for a very long time.

 

Vampires are part of the supernatural world, a world that is fantasy. However, once something supernatural, like a vampire, crosses into our world, past the threshold of what is real and what is not, chaos will ensue for it is not natural. The main way language displayed the darkness of society was through the usage of cuss words. Throughout the novel and the film adaptation, the children, who are seen as these innocent creatures, use the F word in multiple accounts. Hearing such vulgar words from such a young mouth is disgraceful and immoral.

Unlike regular dramas, the anti-drama in absurdism has a specific criterion. It is difficult to follow an absurdist drama, because of the theme and the language. The themes in an absurdist drama deal with sadness, violence, and bitterness. The characters do or say things that other people do not normally hear. The more the character is peculiar in action and nature, the harder for them to be seen as a human (Zhu). This makes us view the story from the outside, rather in the character’s shoes. The film adaptation starts with a religious theme by having Ronald Reagan on a television screen giving a speech:

There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal. The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past.

Religion is an important factor in both the novel and the film adaptation. In the novel, Eli is another name for God.

“Eli. Eli.”

“Is that a name?”

Staffan nodded slowly. “Yes…it means…God.”

“I see, he was calling out to God. Do you think he was heard?”

“What?”

“God. Do you think God heard him? When you consider the circumstances it seems a little…unlikely…”. (149)

 

After Hakan melted his face with acid and was captured by the authorities, he calls out for Eli; however, Eli does not come to his aid. Put this in a religious perceptive, Hakan was calling out for God in his time of distress. However, God has forsaken him, because he committed great sins. Like God, Eli is omniscience, omnipotent, and omnipresence. Eli is omniscience, because he knew Oskar was like him for they are both willing to do anything to survive. Eli is omnipotent, because he is a powerful vampire. Eli is omnipresence, because, even when he was not physically present, he is what drives the plot along. There were two main religious imageries that stood out in the film adaptation. After Abby (Eli) licks Owen’s (Oskar) blood off the floor, she runs outside and climbs up the tree. Unknowingly, Virginia and Larry (Lacke) walk under the tree. Abby (Eli) leaps from the tree and attacks Virginia. This scene symbolizes the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Virginia represents Eve. Larry (Lacke) represents Adam. Abby (Eli) represents the Devil. Abby (Eli) attacking Virginia making her literally fall is similar to the Devil verbally attacking Eve making her fall from innocence. At the end of the film, Abby (Eli) attacks the Policeman. As the Policeman dies, he reaches a bloody hand out for Owen (Oskar). Owen (Oskar) does not reach for the hopeless man’s hand, but he does reach out for the doorknob, so he may close the door. This image is similar to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. In which, God reaches out to man, but unable to fully touch him. Figuratively, Owen (Oskar) closed the door on the truth. Religiously, God is truth.

The plot of an absurd storyline is fractured and scattered like the world. Most of the time, it does not have a clear resolution, but displays an end that is endless (Zhu). The novel consists of multiple storylines or has various subplots that connected by sadness, death, and the cruelty of the world. Each subplot consists of multiple characters that each are flawed. There are repeated moments that are cycled in both the novel and the film adaptation. Death will continue to occur even when one catches a murder, because there will always be more of murders. Bullies will make more bullies. For example, Oskar’s bully, Jonny, has an older brother that bullies him. In the film, his brother calls him “little girls,” which is the same way the bully calls Owen (Oskar). The most important cycle seen in the film adaptation is Owen (Oskar) finding a picture of a young boy, who resembles the Father (Hakan). He realizes that Abby (Eli) befriended him the same way she befriended the Father (Hakan). Owen (Oskar) is part of her routine that allows her to survive. If Owen (Oskar) did not want to help Abby (Eli), then she would find someone else. The cycle will never end.

Samuel Beckett once said, “But what matter whether I was born or not, have lived or not, am dead or merely dying. I shall go on doing as I have always done, not knowing what it is I do, nor who I am, nor where I am, nor if I am.” The idea of life is puzzling. Like a Rubrics Cube, one must go though life trying to piece together reasons and thoughts of why we exist. In the end, all we have are similar thoughts and reasons, grouped collectively together, but do not have a specific conclusion. Oskar will never be like Eli. He will not live forever. He is a replaceable commodity that is part of Eli’s habit of survival. After Oskar, the cycle will continue and never die out, for in the end, one finds the humor in the absurd.

Works Cited

Barranger, Milly S. “Understanding Minimalism and the Absurd.” Understanding Plays. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004. N. pag. Print.

Barthes, Roland. “Myth Today.” The Routledge Drama Anthology and Sourcebook: From Modernism to Contemporary Performance. By Maggie B. Gale and John F. Deeney. London: Routledge, 2010. N. pag. Print.

Cornwell, Neil. “Around the Absurd II: The Theatre of the Absurd.” The Absurd in Literature. Manchester, England: Manchester UP, 2006. 126-56. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 226. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Lindqvist, John Ajvide, and Ebba Segerberg. Let Me in. New York: Thomas Dunne /St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010. Print.

Zhu, Jiang. “Analysis on the Artistic Features and Themes of the Theater of the Absurd.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies 3.8 (2013): 1462. Literature Resource Center. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

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