Saturday, April 26, 2014

Let Me In (2010), Failures of Masculinity, and Romantic Is Manipulation

Between Anne Rice's bourgeois vampires and the buckets of neurosis found Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series the last several decades have been coated in uppity rich vampires whom miserably fail at being scary. What happens when monsters that haunt our dreams come to don the clothing and attitudes of the 1%? And become the drooling focus for the fondling eyes of working class women? When these post-modernist monsters become iconic they only serve to reinforce dominant narratives which reinforce the 1%'s values. Boom! Let The Right One In enters the frame and brings back the scary vampire in the pale skin of the proletariat.

Owen is a lonely and psychologically damaged boy, who while stabbing a tree meets the vampire “girl” of his dreams. Well, that is Abby appears to be a girl. The remake (Let Me In) show's its American-ness in the film's inability to go where the original (Let the Right One In) went and portray the vampire as a castrated boy playing the role of a girl. Nonetheless, both versions portray the vampire taking upon the role of a little girl-ness.

What I enjoy and equality despise about both version of the film is the relational dynamic between the two characters as they court each other. It's all too familiar. Girl meets boy. Girl says she doesn't want to know the boy. Boy swims in the shallow end of the pool of not getting what he wants. Girl changes her mind. Boy swims into the deep end and gets lost in the girl. All the while the girl is seeking to manipulate boy and trap him into a lifelong commitment where the boy regrets who he becomes because of his loyalty to the girl.

Something is wrong here. Why are men and boys acculturated to view girls and women as objects that solve their self-esteem problems? Why are women for men things which have something to do with men's self-esteem? I'd argue that the role women play in courtship has changed and they are clearly aware of it, while men, in general, are behind the curve. Especially, boys like Owen, who are ill equipped to navigate and regulate their social environment.

Boys without fathers are boys learn masculinity from women. One the one hand, this may lead to a greater attunement and empathy when engaging with femininity. On the other hand, boys miss the opportunity to have masculinity modeled in this developmental universe. This is not to say that masculinity and femininity are wholly good, or are two fully exhaustive categories. Language traps us - there are no other ways of gender-ed being that exist. The entire field of gender-ed way of being is a war zone which is daily contested. Yet, still there are normative paths regulated by the dominant heterosexual narrative at play in our society.

Owen, trapped in his neurosis and ineptitude, has no way to critically deceiver Abby's agenda. Lost in his loneliness, he views Abby as a path out of his failure to connect with other children at school. If he can connect with Abby maybe in some way he can connect with himself. Part of this is due to the lack of social capital that Owen may have had if his father was a more relevant figure in his life, and the social class he was shifted into via his parents’ divorce.

Freud argued that the superego is on the side of the father. Through most of human history this may have been the case. The father played the role of the law creator and enforcer. Acculturating a child's moral development to conform to the status quo. The goal for the child, all things being equal, was that the now adult child could enter into the world as an adult as a functional member of the social machine. The mother instilled a sense of nurture, and the father instills a sense of nature. The world has changed, and the broken family plays by different rules that disorient children.

In the film, Owen's father wholly exists as a disembodied voice over the phone whom has lost his authority to be a father. The separated family distances and strains the relationships and network in which Owen needs to develop a sense of self which is compatible in the market place. Living in a power vacuum, Owen learns clings to the strongest force in his universe; the bullies who identify him as a girl. Owen is navigating a contradiction, He feels the shame, and is angry at his loss of dignity, yet because he lacks a self-concept which could help him have the power to name his oppression. He becomes a victim to himself and others. He girls himself to himself.

Abby is rooted in a different familial dynamic than Owen. She is a 300 year old vampire whom has secluded herself from mainstream society in order to remain hidden. She lives with an older man who society perceives to be her father, whom at the same time is alluded to as her past romantic relationship. The view is given the idea that (at least in the remake) that the father she live is the role that she is training Owen to fulfill. I say training because both Owen and The Father have a parallel and also reversed the path of development through the film. As Owen is encouraged by Abby to become an aggressor, The Father's role as aggressor deteriorates.

Unlike, Romeo and Juliet, which the remake calls attention to, the romance that plays out between Abby and Owen does and does not conform to the traditional romantic courting. Abby plays the role of the court-er; Owen plays the role of the courted. I'd argue that this plays out explicitly in the final scene of the movie where Abby dismembers the bullies that have been plaguing Owen throughout the film. It is here that the cultural standard of the man swooping in to save the damsel in distress is subverted. Abby is no damsel, and her biggest dilemma in the film is cleaning up after she eats. Owen, then takes on the role of the damsel in distress archetype who requires rescue.

The lesson that Let Me In teaches is deeper than just role reversals. That men can be victims of themselves and others, and women can don a cape and be the heroine. At base, what we learn is that while the film is playing true to the normative progress of courtship, beneath the ritual there are more self-centered motivations at play. The romantic rituals play out to disguise to Owen Abby's true motivations. Dressed in roses and kisses the romantic dialect is not a natural good, but a tool for two people to fulfill their self-serving motivations.

3 comments:

  1. This was very well written! I never looked at the role reversal of this movie. Very interesting indeed.

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  2. Thanks! I just finished a revision/rewrite of this post. If you liked this post you might get a kick out of some of my other articles.

    Did you see the original?

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  3. I have seen the original and it's a little slower, more quiet and definitely has that somewhat more daring European sensibility. I agree with you that the US version has been simplified a bit but I still enjoyed it a lot. your writing is great! I will definitely read your other posts!

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