‘A Man Called Otto’ and the difficult path to acceptance

Emily Cherkauskas, Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers and discusses potentially triggering content.

The task of moving away from the past is not an easy one to follow. Some things that have happened in the past should stay in the past, one may think. However, it is important to address them anyway, with forgiveness and acceptance.

“A Man Called Otto,” released on Jan.13, 2023, is a unique film that emphasizes such a mentality. Otto Anderson, played by Tom Hanks, is an old widower who recently lost his wife and lifelong soulmate, Sonya, who was a schoolteacher. He has recently retired from his job, a company where his employers and coworkers of which happened to dehumanize and bully him. 

His small neighborhood and community is fading away, being overtaken not just by strangers and new neighbors, but also by an overpowering real estate company aptly named Dye & Merika (read out loud for the reflective pun). To put it simply, Otto has nothing left to live for. Or so he initially thinks.

One set of new neighbors include the family of Marisol and Tommy, the stereotypical millennial parents who are expecting their third child. Their new presence in the neighborhood, initially an obnoxious one for Otto, ends up being something that Otto can find company in. As the movie progresses, this fresh neighborly relationship ends up saving Otto several times, either from external forces, or even from himself.

Around this time, Otto also takes in the neighborhood stray cat, who had to suffer outside in cold winter weather. Previously a pure annoyance for Otto, the charitable act of adopting the cat opens up Otto’s worldview to be more forgiving.

Later on in the story, Otto offers his house to Malcolm, a local teen and former student of Sonya, who was kicked out and disowned by his family for his transgender identity. Previously apprehensive to the thought of others entering and touching his late wife’s belongings, to the point of physically blocking others, Otto is able to take a step forward in the progress to healing. Malcolm, a former student of Sonya, speaks upon the kindness and acceptance of Sonya, bringing comfort to Otto.

Otto does attempt suicide multiple times, in private and in public. However, the attempts all fail, either due to botches or interruptions by other characters. One incident includes the moment of Otto saving an elderly man who fell onto train tracks, only because everybody else at the station was standing in shock and recording on their phones. As the other man was saved, Otto remained on the tracks as a train approached, only to be grabbed by another man. 

This movie has one of those stories where everything is somehow magically connected to one another, be it events or people, akin to the butterfly effect. What is initially a negative experience, one that can be to the point of traumatic, can turn around into something positive. For example, Marisol and Tommy’s needs and interruptions ultimately save Otto several times. Unfortunately, as the film presents, it can also be vice versa. However, in “A Man Called Otto,” the good manages to overcome the bad.

Grief is painful, no matter who you are and what you have experienced. It’s not a competition on who suffers the most. What matters, though, is how one manages to deal with it and find the strength and courage to move forward, in honor of what you lost. The characters in this story are notable examples of how a community can band together to help each other, not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally.

“A Man Called Otto” is a film that will make you experience the diverse spectrum of human emotion, where you will be laughing and feeling sorrowful in the same scene. I wasn’t able to include the entire plot summary, but there are many charming and memorable scenes in this film that make it worthwhile to go out and watch.

If you value found family, this movie is definitely for you.

If you are dealing with depressive thoughts or thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. If you are dealing with a crisis:

Text: The Wilkes University Support Line @ 570-408-CHAT (2428) or The Crisis Text Line by Texting HOME to 741741 

Call: The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Dial 988