Why is Eli sympathetic?

For discussion of Tomas Alfredson's Film Låt den rätte komma in
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cmfireflies
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Why is Eli sympathetic?

Post by cmfireflies » Sun Jun 28, 2009 6:37 am

OK, I made a post like this on IMDb before, but I kind of want to expand on it here. I can't go off topic if I made the topic can I?

To me Eli is the most sympathetic mass murderer ever committed to celluloid, this is partly inspired by Wolfchild's introduction asking why that is and Wolfchild's "No Redemption" thingy.

umm, spoilers for those who haven't read the book

One of the more interesting changes I found between the book and the movie is Locke's death. In the book, Oskar takes a much more active role defending Eli. (Lacke also is also much more serious about killing Eli, he aims the knife at Eli's heart and interestingly is pushed to do the deed because of Eli's sleeping simile.) Lacke is thwarted by a Rubix's cube to the back of the skull courtesy of Oskar, and then Eli gets her snack. In one of the creepiest non-Hakan moments, Oskar locks the door and puts on his headphones to drown out the noise coming from the bathroom. This comes after the ear-whacking scene and it can be seen as evidence that that Oskar is maturing (into a very violent person but maturing nonetheless.)

In the movie, Oskar screams and Eli wakes up. He is still totally dependent on Eli, (he helps Eli only indirectly and may even be responsible for letting Locke in by not locking Eli's front door after he comes to visit her). Oskar in the film didn't mature at all, (or maybe he does and realizes he isn't capable of that kind of violence). Why did Alfredson change this key scene? I argue that it's to garner more sympathy for Eli.

Eli, the 12-year-oldish boy/girl vampire kills a lot of people in the movie. If it were a Hollywood production, those people might be gangsters or other characters painted as despicably as possible before their deaths. Alfredson and JAL thankfully do not go that route. Instead, Jocke is introduced as the bestest buddy anyone could want and it is Eli that manipulates his kindness and kills him. How are we suppose to root for such a character? It is because Oskar loves Eli and we the audience see Eli through Oskar's eyes. Before and after each killing by Eli, we see Oskar's loneliness and pain followed by the tender moments he shares with Eli. So Oskar's smitten with Eli and we're along for the ride. We share in Oskar's triumph when he asks Eli to go steady, and we're sad when Oskar's "first date" turns out disastrously. We connect with Oskar because he's just a sensitive kid, bullied through no fault of his own: an innocent.

For us to continue to root for Eli and Oskar, It's imperative that Oskar remains innocent throughout his interactions with Eli.
Eli has to give Oskar everything (friendship, courage, even her life during the invite scene) or else we wouldn't forgive her for taking the lives of so many others. As I write this, I'm reminded of the story, "the giving tree". You know the one, the tree gives the boy shade, apples, and even wood to build a boat. Eli is Oskar's giving tree, except that she has to take from others to provide for Oskar.

I'm thinking that Eli's selfless love for Oskar is barely enough to offset her other deeds. If Oskar actually actively participated in the killing of Locke, we'd blame Eli the vampire for corrupting Oskar. Oskar has to be defenseless during the pool scene for a similar reason. Oskar's lack of resistance makes the bullies more evil so the audience would cheer for what Eli does during her return.

So, we sympathize with Eli the mass murderer because we understand why Oskar, an innocent, loves her. Oskar's character is presented the way he is in the film because he has to be a symbol of purity that accepts Eli and Eli has to act as the protector of that purity. If Oskar was not a blameless character; if he took a more active role in defending Eli, the audience wouldn't sympathize with Eli enough to make the movie work as a love story. So instead of "No Redemption" Oskar is Eli's redemption. In the movie, Oskar is purely innocent anyways so he doesn't have to be redeemed (tree stabbing and murderous scrapbook notwithstanding).

That took longer than I thought. It's just one theory for why Eli works as a sympathetic vampire. And an analysis of how the movie manipulates the audience emotionally (in a good way). It's rambling but it's late and that's how I think.
Last edited by cmfireflies on Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:18 am, edited 2 times in total.
"When is a monster not a monster? Oh, when you love it."

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genie47
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Re: Why is Eli sympathetic? and Oskar such a wimp?

Post by genie47 » Sun Jun 28, 2009 6:46 am

NIce insight on why the movie is made the way it is compared to the novel. I'm thinking about Eli's neutering and why it was done. I'll post it in the novel section.
Låt den rätte komma in in both its printed and celluloid form is a slow acting poison. You will be poisoned white. White from arsenic and innocence.

To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage. - Lao Tzu

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Aurora
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Re: Why is Eli sympathetic? and Oskar such a wimp?

Post by Aurora » Sun Jun 28, 2009 10:36 am

Overall I tend to agree with what you've written, there's no doubt that TA did a great job of making sure that we were rooting for Oskar and Eli by the time of the pool.

Oskar being a victim was easier to portray I think, even the one time he stood up for himself didn't change that. I do agree that his passivity at critical moments in the film showed that he wasn't ever going to change that much.

Making a vampire, who by their very nature is someone that preys on humans (we'll forget about Twilight for now), sympathetic is never going to be easy. TA probably even more than JAL showed that Eli had a pretty hellish existence, she in fact had very little going for her even compared to her neighbours in Blackeberg. Living forever has never before looked so bleak :(
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genie47
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Re: Why is Eli sympathetic? and Oskar such a wimp?

Post by genie47 » Sun Jun 28, 2009 1:43 pm

Aurora wrote:Living forever has never before looked so bleak :(
Living forever stuck at 12 with no puberty in sight to be exact. :shock:

Come to think of it, not going through puberty or adolescence can be good. :P
Låt den rätte komma in in both its printed and celluloid form is a slow acting poison. You will be poisoned white. White from arsenic and innocence.

To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage. - Lao Tzu

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Re: Why is Eli sympathetic? and Oskar such a wimp?

Post by TΛPETRVE » Sun Jun 28, 2009 1:50 pm

Eli leads at least a better "afterlife" than Rice's Claudia. Eli has a reason to live. Claudia is basically a bored, frustrated, decadent emo brat that deserves nothing less than a slow and agonizing demise.
If it was up to me, I would baptize her personally. She would look like poor Håkan when was done with her.
Att fly är livet, att dröja döden.

Do not ask why; ask why not.

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Re: Why is Eli sympathetic? and Oskar such a wimp?

Post by N.R. Gasan » Tue Jun 30, 2009 1:14 am

I always like to give credit where credit is due, and I have to credit "cmfireflies" for not only coming up with an innovative topic, but also presenting such deep insight into why fans of LTROI (the film) almost universally view Eli as a sympathetic character. As CM points out, the book is a different matter; you get to know more about Eli and Eli's circumstances (castrated at age 12...hard NOT to sympathize). But the film gives very limited info about Eli.

As a die-hard romantic, I always presumed my non-judgemental attitude towards Eli stemmed from my wanting Eli and Oskar to hook-up, to be "happily-ever-after." And for the fact that I often root for the underdog; or, in this case, the underdogs. And these I still hold true. But after pondering CM's ideas about how Eli does not "corrupt" Oskar, thereby not turning the audience against her, I have to say I agree with CM. I imagined how I would view Eli if in the film Oskar had actually stabbed Locke or otherwise actively participated in his demise. I concluded that I would, indeed, have viewed Eli as having corrupted Oskar. I remember reading a review of LTROI where the reviewer described Oskar as a "fragile boy whose anger cannot destroy his gentle heart." I wouldn't have seen Eli quite as a villain, but my sympathies for her would certainly have dimmed.

I only wish that CM had used a different way of describing Oskar for this topic; "wimp" has such a negative connotation, even though CM is not looking to dis Oskar. As CM deftly points out, it is essential in the film for Oskar to remain an innocent so that he can, indeed, be Eli's redemption. Perhaps a better title would have been "Why Do Viewers Have Such Sympathy For Eli?" Well, as CM says, it was late. :) But this post is definitely NOT rambling; this is truly one of the most insightful presentations on an aspect of LTROI that I've read...and I've read more than a few in the past couple of months. Kudos to "cmfireflies."

Oh, by the way, if you've never heard of the book that was mentioned -- THE GIVING TREE -- you should check it out; there's a short film that was made of the book, voiced by its author Shel Silverstein, posted on Youtube. Very moving.

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Re: Why is Eli sympathetic? and Oskar such a wimp?

Post by Wolfchild » Tue Jun 30, 2009 3:05 am

Yes, this is an interest image that you present us with: Eli the evil protector of Oskar the angel. This could indeed be one of the ambiguities at the heart of this film's appeal.

I started to write a reply about how I found sympathy for Eli. Eli did not really become Oskar's protector until the very end of the film, but I found myself sympathizing with her long before the pool scene. I started to write about why this could be this and I kept writing and writing. It eventually became rather long, and I instead made it into a page about sympathy for Eli on my [url=http://www.;et-the-right-one-in.com/woofy]web site[/url].
...the story derives a lot of its appeal from its sense of despair and a darkness in which the love of Eli and Oskar seems to shine with a strange and disturbing light.
-Lacenaire

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cmfireflies
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Re: Why is Eli sympathetic? and Oskar such a wimp?

Post by cmfireflies » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:18 am

Thanks Gasan! Everyone loves feedback! I'll change the topic title, I wanted something that suggested a link between the viewer's sympathy with Eli and Oskar's passiveness in the film, but wimp isn't the best word, I agree.

Oh and Wolfy, your link's messed up. Very interested to read your take on things. Personally vampires are my favorite movie monsters because they have a personality beyond being a metaphor for whatever message the horror film wants to convey. Like zombies are a great symbol of mass consumption and man's inhumanity towards man, but really not the most interesting conversationalists. Besides, all vampires are inherently sympathetic because they're selfish. Something we can all relate to, right? I mean, if you can really sacrifice yourself so that total strangers may live, great. But don't we find those types of people slightly annoying? (I'm thinking about environmental protesters who chain themselves to a tree because they really believe human welfare doesn't trump the interests of some endangered insect.) Sometimes it's great to root for a character that's slightly evil, especially if he has someone to share his ill-gotten joys with.
"When is a monster not a monster? Oh, when you love it."

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Re: Why is Eli sympathetic? and Oskar such a wimp?

Post by Wolfchild » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:33 am

cmfireflies wrote:Besides, all vampires are inherently sympathetic because they're selfish. Something we can all relate to, right? I mean, if you can really sacrifice yourself so that total strangers may live, great. But don't we find those types of people slightly annoying? (I'm thinking about environmental protesters who chain themselves to a tree because they really believe human welfare doesn't trump the interests of some endangered insect.) Sometimes it's great to root for a character that's slightly evil, especially if he has someone to share his ill-gotten joys with.
Oh this is such a cool take! Your mind runs along paths that would never occur to me. Part of the appeal of the vampire is a vicarious thrill of the very self-centeredness and egotism inherent in a vampire's existence. We envy them their freedom from constraint.

This is so true of vampires stories in general, and so turned on its head in LTROI. The only thing we can envy Eli for is the love she finds at the end. (Oh - and maybe the ability to fly. 8-) ).

One second thought - is there anything that we can envy Eli for?
...the story derives a lot of its appeal from its sense of despair and a darkness in which the love of Eli and Oskar seems to shine with a strange and disturbing light.
-Lacenaire

Visit My LTROI fan page.

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cmfireflies
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Re: Why is Eli sympathetic?

Post by cmfireflies » Tue Jun 30, 2009 5:22 am

she found Oskar.

Also, centuries of loneliness didn't turn Eli into a whiny emo or an uncaring monster.
"When is a monster not a monster? Oh, when you love it."

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