When I first encountered the story of A Man Called Otto, Tom Hanks’ newest movie, it was in book form. One of the members of my book club picked it as her selection for the group to read (the version we read was actually translated from the original Swedish novel, A Man Called Ove).
I remember being deeply moved and charmed by the novel, and when I heard they were making a movie – starring the always-lovable Tom Hanks – I knew I’d definitely want to try to catch it in theaters.
The film tells the story of an elderly man who is known as the neighborhood grump, who will snap at and shake his fist at anyone who has the misfortune to park incorrectly or place their trash in the wrong receptacle. He’s bitter, angry, and confrontational – exactly the sort of man everyone wants to avoid.
That is, until a new family moves into the neighborhood and decides to chip away at Otto’s seemingly rock-solid grumpiness to find the human heart still beating underneath. Their persistent kindness helps Otto find a reason to live again (we learn his angry behavior is driven by the recent loss of his wife).
While I don’t normally like to include spoilers, I feel it is important to talk specifically about some of the content in this movie. The story addresses heavy themes such as suicide and grief. Otto is planning to commit suicide at the beginning of this film, and even though he ultimately chooses to keep living, I think it’s important viewers know ahead of time that the topic of suicide will be addressed.
I think for too long in our culture, topics like mental health and suicide have been considered “taboo,” and if we’re going to start decreasing the stigma and making it easier for people to come forward and ask for help, we need to discuss these topics more openly, and that includes addressing them in fiction.
Another reason I appreciate this film is that it promotes community and the idea of found family. There are plenty of lonely, hurting people in the world, and just like Otto, they need someone to reach out to them and show them a little kindness.
I know I could be better about this. My husband and I moved into a new neighborhood in November, and I still haven’t gone around and introduced myself to all my neighbors yet. It’s hard to know if someone in your community is in trouble if you never take the time to start a conversation with them and get to know them.
Online connections are great, but our digitally-dominated culture can leave people feeling isolated. I loved how in this movie all the people in Otto’s neighborhood came together and formed a caring community that looked out for one another.
I recently breezed through Rotten Tomatoes, curious to see what some of the reviews for this movie were, and was surprised to see it was ranked at only 70%. Some of the reviewers docked it for being a little too sentimental and predictable.
I find myself disagreeing with that. With so many problems in the world today – violence, sickness, financial struggles – sometimes it’s OK to watch something a little sentimental that hopefully inspires us to be better.