Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Bad Seed

Our obsession with disturbing tales of missing and murdered little girls like JonBenét Ramsey and Kaylee Anthony, attests to our cultural fascination with purity and violence. Girls are fragile, and are supposed to be nice, like rosey-cheeked, doe-eyed dolls, who curtsey and wink to their adoring audiences. But sometimes, evil gets into their hollow bodies and turns them bad. Violent girls are shocking and terrifying, because they reveal that death may be lurking under a sweet and dainty cover.

The title of Carlos Saura’s 1976 film, Cría Cuervos derives from the Spanish proverb “ Raise ravens and they’ll peck out your eyes.” Eight-year old Ana (Ana Torrent who also starred in the mysterious Spirit of the Beehive) is a troubled little girl copping with the trauma of her mother's tortured death. Ana silently haunts the film moving between inner fantasy and reality; she is not a happy-go-lucky child. She bears the weight of the world and contemplates suicide as well as murderous attempts on the adults around her. Ana's blank saucer eyes reflect a doom that bespeaks her future life of inescapable morbidity and sadness.

 Cría Cuervos, 1976 

Like Ana, thirteen year-old Rynn (Jodi Foster) the protagonist of  The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, resides in an isolated self-made world.  The fiercely independent, Rynn lives alone in her father's secluded farm house. It seems, her Father is always away on business and she is left to her own care and rearing. As concerned visitors, social workers, and neighbors stop by, it becomes apparent that Rynn has a dark secret and that Daddy won't be home anytime soon. Rynn is a coy and manipulative girl who uses her wiles to get her way. I haven't seen this film since I was a teenager, but I remember my fascination with her freedom from parental control. Her unfettered self-possession was thrilling and is surely the fantasy of many young girls.

In both these films, the parents are distant or absent. The children are not safe in domestic care and must fend for themselves, as they grapple with weighty moral and emotional issues. The same is true of 2008 Swedish film, Let The Right One In a tender coming of age story wrapped in a restrained monster movie. It is director Tomas Alfredson's  poetic tale of the pale, bullied Oscar and his new odd friend Eli. 

Let the Right One In, 2008

Twelve year old, Oscar is a sensitive introvert who is tormented by brutal schoolyard bullying. He is a lonely kid who fantasises violent revenge plots on his abusers. He appears as dismal and forlorn as the icy Swedish landscape until a weird and serious girl moves into his building. Eli bears the marks of neglect and is always disheveled and barefoot, even in the dead of winter. Initially, Eli spurns Oscar's eager attempts for friendship, but slowly, the two fall into an innocent, adolescent love affair.

The story of burgeoning young love, is contrasted by a parallel narrative of violent and bloody murders in the town. It is revealed that Eli is really a two-hundred year old vampire living in the body of a twelve year old girl. She is a little monster, who must kill to live. It is Eli who brings the wrath of punishment on Oscar's tormentors, and she becomes his protector in what may be the most nuanced mass murder scene ever on screen. 

Let the Right One In, 2008

With Let the Right one In, Alfredson has created a brilliant vampire movie while exploring the depths of companionship and unconditional love. If you missed it in the theater, the film is available on DVD today.

No comments:

Post a Comment