“Idiots,” Otto grumbles with every step he takes.
He makes his rounds through the neighborhood, grumbling at every mistake people around him make. How hard is it to put your parking pass on the rearview mirror, close the neighborhood gate or put your bike in the bike rack? He grouses.
As far as he’s concerned, the America that Otto knew is dying. No one knows how to fix anything anymore. A predatory real estate agent looks for ways to buy the neighborhood properties out from under people. And take just yesterday, when Otto tried to buy five feet of rope, and they told him he would still need to pay for six feet—because it’s policy to only charge by the yard.
All of the problems of the world are only accentuated by the passing of Otto’s wife, Sonya, six months before. If Otto were to think about it, she was the real reason why the world was so great. She gave Otto’s world color. Now that she’s gone, the whole world’s gone greyscale.
But today, that’s all going to change. Because using that purchased rope to craft a noose, Otto’s going to rejoin his wife. He steps up on his coffee table and prepares to slip his head through the hole.
Just then, Otto is interrupted by the sound of new neighbors Tommy and Marisol, backing their U-Haul over the curb and into their property. Apparently, no one knows how to parallel park with a trailer anymore.
Idiots. Otto can’t stand it. He slips the noose off his head and goes over to teach these neighbors how to do it properly. He can always get back to his suicidal plans later—if only these amicable and caring neighbors would stop appearing so frequently in his life.
Otto longs for better days—days when Sonya was alive, people knew how to fix things, and everything was a bit simpler. Otto says of his deceased wife, there’s “nothing before or after” her.
But Otto’s fixation on the things of the past is an idol in his heart, and it’s dragging the elderly man down into a bitter depression. As the story unfolds, we’re warned about how making anything an idol in our lives can quickly ruin us.
Though Otto’s love for Sonya reminds us of the value of marriage, his idolization of his wife has made her a crutch for the aging man; when she passes, Otto must learn how to walk on his own once again. He hangs onto those former days, refusing to get rid of his wife’s coats, which still hang on the coat rack. But when young Marisol discovers Otto’s pain, she gently shows him how moving on is good for him, and how it won’t disrespect Sonya’s memory to do so.
Otto learns another important lesson: You can’t do everything alone. Though Otto thinks the world is nothing but “idiots,” Marisol shows him how it’s OK to get help from others—even if you may need to teach them a thing or two before they can help.
And as for Marisol and Tommy (as well as a couple other neighbors), they put up with Otto’s many bitter remarks in order to befriend him. Otto, for his part, does help his neighbors when asked, even if he isn’t the friendliest about it (though he would disagree—he was being friendly, he insists).
Otto often speaks with Sonya at her grave, telling her of how he plans to meet her again soon.
[Spoiler Warning] During one of Otto’s suicide attempts, the ghost of his wife speaks to him, discouraging him from taking his life. Later, Otto eventually does pass away (from natural causes), and a minster leads his funeral service.
A prominent character named Malcolm is transgender. Malcolm’s father kicks him out for identifying in that way. Otto exclaims that anyone who disagrees with transgender ideology is “an idiot.”
A man wearing tight, revealing pants stretches, causing Otto to ask the man’s girlfriend if she can tell him to “stop stretching his groin in public.” A young Otto and Sonya kiss a couple times. Marisol and Tommy kiss, too.
There’s no getting around the central premise of the film: an elderly man who wants to kill himself to reunite with his wife in the afterlife. Otto’s initial attempt is followed by three more.
Otto hangs himself, but the hook snaps, causing him to collapse to the floor. He tries to take his life via carbon monoxide poisoning, but his neighbor interrupts him. He also stands in front of an oncoming train, but he is once again saved. Otto finally tries to shoot himself with a shotgun, but he is distracted, and the bullet instead fires into the ceiling.
Otto is quick to confront a couple people with violence. He assaults a hospital clown for not returning a personal memento. He also yanks someone from his truck after the man impatiently honks at him. And when a store employee asks if Otto needs help cutting rope, Otto asks if the employee is afraid that Otto may accidentally cut himself and bleed in the store.
A bus crashes, paralyzing a woman and causing a miscarriage. A man has a heart attack. A woman throws rocks at a stray cat.
The s-word is used four times. We also hear about a half-dozen instances each of “h—,” “b–tard” and “crap.” There are a couple uses of “b–ch,” “d–n,” “p-ss” and “pr-ck.” God’s name is used in vain 19 times, and two of those times are paired with “d–n.” And, of course, Otto calls pretty much everyone an “idiot.”
Otto brings a bottle of liquor to reconnect with a friend. The two never get around to opening it.
People film an elderly man who has fallen onto train tracks rather than helping him. Otto says a woman is “full of garbage.” A real estate agency gets illegal access to medical records in an effort to push elderly people out of their homes. A baby defecates. Otto is quite rude in most encounters.
It’s tough to move on from the loss of a loved one. Instead, Otto figures the easiest thing he can do is just to end his life and join his wife in the afterlife. But when friendly and insistent neighbors insist on growing closer to him, Otto’s sour opinion of life slowly begins to soften.
This film is remake of the 2015 Swedish film A Man Called Ove, which itself is based on Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel of the same name. Throughout the movie, Tom Hanks’ Otto expresses his disgust at all the people who are ruining the world—namely, those who don’t know or care enough about how to fix things or follow rules.
And, if we’re being honest, there are a few things we’d wish A Man Called Otto would fix, too. For starters, the movie centers around a man attempting to commit suicide in a few different ways. It also features quite a bit of crude language, and a prominent character is transgender.
Those content issues are frustrating, because the film does provide a nice message regarding community and seeking help amid grief. But those redemptive themes come off a bit dull and muddled when clouded by the film’s bigger concerns.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”