Through A Curmudgeon’s Lens, ‘A Man Called Otto’ Tackles Love and Loss

How would you feel about living across from an old widower who walks around the neighborhood every morning just to check if every car has a parking permit?

Many would say they’d feel unsettled—disturbed even. 

For Otto Anderson, this bitter habit is a daily practice. A Man Called Otto, released on Jan. 13, follows Otto (Tom Hanks), an old cynical man planning to commit suicide after the death of his wife Sonya (Rachel Keller). Otto’s desperate attempt is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of his new neighbor Marisol (Mariana Treviño), who helps uncover a fuller account of Otto—one that explores what is behind his curmudgeonly ways .

The film, directed by Marc Forster, is an adaptation of Swedish novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. The new adaptation achieves a similar mark of excellence as the novel, but does not necessarily stir its audience with the same astonishment as the original. 

Throughout the film, the audience is invited to burst into laughter whenever Marisol tries to offer help to Otto. Marisol precisely reads Otto’s temper and pessimism. Her seemingly annoying yet friendly interference—whether intentional or not—gradually cracks Otto’s hard shell.

Haunted by his wife’s death, Otto mentally prepared himself to committ suicide. Yet each time Marisol tirelessly knocks on Otto’s door, hilariously pronounces his name, and brings him Mexican cuisine, she pushes and encourages Otto to accept the good will of others and find a new perspective on life.

The audience is able to step into the everyday and mundane life of Otto through Hanks’ truthful acting. 

Hanks succeeds in his ability to bring out the different sides of Otto. With no need for an explosive or exaggerated performance, Hanks remains authentic to the many layers of Otto in his acting. Hee displays this in a variety of moments—whether it be when Otto yells at his neighbors in a spiteful tone or when Otto slowly breaks his hard shell after being inspired by his neighbor Marisol and finds new value in everyday life. 

While the film exhibits a strong image of Otto in the present, some viewers may be left wondering how his present-day personality came to be, as the film only includes a few flashbacks to Otto and Sonya’s past moments together. The minimal glimpses into Otto’s marriage are not developed enough to convince the viewer that Otto’s inability to move on after Sonya’s death is justified. The abrupt transitions between young Otto and present-day Otto shut the audience out on why and how Otto became such an ill-tempered man.

While death is a universal topic, some films struggle to touch on it gracefully. A Man Called Otto accomplishes this task. The way in which people accept and deal with death is a question A Man Called Otto invites the audience to ponder. For Otto, the fear associated with moving on when a loved one dies is stronger than the fear he feels when thinking about dying himself. 

Through taking a glimpse into his bittersweet life, viewers witness Otto’s journey as he casts off the shackles of his past and relieves himself from seemingly inescapable melancholy. Viewers may even see a bit of themself and their own emotional journeys in Otto’s story, which is ultimately a message about how to embrace love and reconcile with death. 

January 25, 2023