Let the Right One In: a Meta-review

Mr_faust said, “Fuck you, Owen.”


I was intrigued.  I read the link, and I’m forced to agree: Owen Gleiberman, possibly through no fault of his own, has not grasped the point of Let the Right One In.  Let me show you two quotes from his review:

Where, I want to know, in all this girl/boy, normal/vampire, angel/demon spiritual diddling is the heat, the confusion, even the anguish of young love?
And, sorry, I still think it lacks coherence. Why do a bunch of cats turn demonic and attack a woman who has been attacked by a vampire? And why the sudden, excessive carnage of the swimming-pool massacre?

Are you confused or not, Owen Gleiberman?

Yes.  You are confused.

And this is a point of the movie: the confusion of young love isn’t confusion about love exclusively.  It’s confusion about everything in life.  Why do things appear to happen suddenly? Because when you’re young you have no clue about how to unravel cause and effect, intent and circumstance, mistake and resulting cock-up.  When you are young things simply happen.

This is blindingly obvious to your detractors, many of whom are young, but despite watching it twice with a trained eye, you have missed it. Consider the “utter lack of reaction” you decry as “totally false” and “uninteresting.”

This moment literalizes, and sentimentalizes, one of the most enduringly facile of all trendy academic ideas: that gender is just a “construct,” and therefore far less important than it seems.

It’s called an ideal.

I get that you miss things, so read that again: it’s called an ideal.  The point isn’t that in real life, gender doesn’t actually matter.  It’s that gender shouldn’t matter.  That is what makes protagonists heroes: they go a little beyond what is realistic, what is plausible, and they show us a world of the impossible.  If this is false, it’s false in the way that Superman bouncing a bullet off his chest is false.  It’s false in the way that Neo kicking Agent Smith through a wall is false.  It’s false in the sense that a hero standing up for what’s right and always getting the girl at the end of the movie is false.  It is a necessary falsity, because the entire movie is a construct of fiction.  This is how film works.

Gender ambiguity – or more precisely, gender equality – doesn’t sit well with Owen Glieberman.  Merely because something is “trendy” (and how “trendy” gets mixed up with “academic” beats me) does not mean that it is false. I could point out that equal rights for women has been a social justice issue since before Constantine ruled Rome: hardly “trendy” by any normal use of the term.  But more importantly, consider that the long history of abuses of women has been perpetuated precisely because people – people like Owen Glieberman – denied gender equality as an ideal.  If it’s silly to think of women as being equal to men, then it follows logically that women cannot have the same rights as men.  The entire slippery slope of sexism proceeds from that fundamental idea of inequity: the glass ceiling, the concept that it is okay to talk about a secretary as a “hot piece of meat,” non-virginal status used against the female victim in rape cases, and so on.

If men and women are really, truly equal, then all of this becomes quite impossible. It stands revealed as the absurdity that it is.  And if, in relationships, the protagonist is always expected to react with shock and horror because they got someone’s gender wrong, that denies the existence of bisexuals.  It denies the concept of love that transcends gender.

Owen Glieberman does not, perhaps cannot, see that.

His loss.


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well spoken.

  2. […] myself a feminist.  In the proper company, I would not hesitate to characterize myself as a “radical […]

  3. […] what it’s worth, I agree with you that the bar could still be said to be low, where media is concerned. But because of that, […]

  4. […] that probably bears repeating.  I have argued, as many feminists have, that gender roles are socially constructed, in accordance with the sociological understanding of […]

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