A Man Called Otto, by Albert W. Vogt III

Whatever is M3GAN (2022), I can all but guarantee you that it is not as good as A Man Called Otto (2022).  In writing that sentence, I realize that I sound a bit like the grumpy old man that is the title character in the latter, Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks).  We will get to that discussion in the next paragraph.  In the meantime, more grumpiness.  I wanted to go to the theater closest to my house to have a nice(ish) meal while watching a film that many people I know said they were excited to see.  Instead, I was forced to go to a different cinema with subpar cuisine.  Such were the lengths that I was willing to go to avoid M3GAN.  Watch the previews and judge for yourself.  I realize that taste is a thing, and Lord knows I have been roundly criticized for what I like.  I just cannot imagine that other one making me feel the same as did A Man Called Otto.

A Man Called Otto is not happy.  This is evident as he deals gruffly with the Busy Beaver hardware store employees that want to charge him for two yards of rope instead of the five feet he is buying.  This carries over into his neighborhood where he keeps himself busy making sure all the codes posted on their block are enforced.  There is supposed to be no through traffic, all parked cars should be clearly marked with residential tags, recycling should be in its proper bins, etc.  Before his last day at work, he spends time having all of his utilities shut off.  He does this because later he plans to hang himself with the rope he had purchased.  Before he can do so, though, he notices the family moving in across the street and their inability to correctly parallel park.  Not being able to let this stand, he marches out there and, when they continue to prove inept in his eyes, does the job himself.  In gratitude, the pregnant mother, Marisol (Mariana Treviño), brings Otto some food.  This delays his awful goal, but he is back to slipping the noose over his head at his next opportunity.  He wants to do because six months earlier his wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller), had passed away from cancer.  It is clear that he is having trouble coping, and not solely from the fact that he is trying to off himself.  There is the fact that he continues to sleep on one side of the bed, leaving her side unoccupied.  Indeed, everything in his house appears to be as it had been the day she passed away.  What we get with this attempt at suicide, and subsequent ones (standby), are glimpses into how a young Otto (Truman Hanks) got together with Sonya.  After failing to get into the military due to an enlarged heart, he sees Sonya on another train platform drop a book.  Hustling over to the other side to retrieve it, he eventually ends up getting on a different train so that he can return it to her.  From there they have dinner, and the rest is them falling in love.  What prevents Otto from joining her in death this time is the fact that the hook holding the rope to the ceiling comes out, and he falls to the floor.  The next day he goes to Sonya’s grave to apologize for not getting the job done.  Back at home, he continues to observe his new neighbors across the street fumble with settling into their new accommodations.  Otto gives Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Marisol’s husband, a ladder to fix one of their windows.  Him falling off it and going to the hospital prompts Marisol to find Otto, who had been trying to die from carbon monoxide poisoning from his car’s exhaust, to take her to see her husband.  While she sees Tommy, Otto spends time with their two young daughters and begins to form a bond with them.  Then, if for no other reason than for him not to have to be Marisol and Tommy’s personal taxi service, he takes Marisol out to give her driving lessons.  During this, Otto reveals a bit more about the life he shared with Sonya.  Feeling like they had been making a real connection, Marisol asks about any children they had.  This subject closes him up, and a series of goings-on in their street when they return home also trigger Otto’s heart condition.  He makes it back into his house and ignores the worried banging of Marisol who wants to know if he is okay.  This prompts another suicide attempt by Otto, and this time he gets something he thinks will be foolproof.  He finds his double-barreled shotgun in the attic.  Covering his living room with plastic, he has the barrel tucked under his chin when he hears Sonya’s voice telling him that he needs to live.  It is at this moment that he hears a knock at his door and finds Malcolm (Mack Bayda), a transgendered young person who had once been a student of Sonya’s.  Malcolm’s father had kicked out Malcolm for their life choices, and now they are looking for a place to stay.  The next day, Otto learns that some of his other neighbors, Anita (Juanita Jennings) and her wheelchair bound husband Reuben (Peter Lawson Jones) are being pressured into moving away by the hated development corporation Dye & America.  Otto decides to do something about it, but requires a phone.  Yet, since he shut his off, he turns to Marisol for help.  Given how she had been treated, she is not eager to do so.  It takes Otto admitting why he cannot get over Sonya, which is partially due to her miscarrying and becoming paralyzed due to a bus accident.  It is the catharsis he needed.  It gains him a group of friends for the next year before his heart condition finally catches up to him and he dies.

There are those who might watch a film like A Man Called Otto and find it boring.  Please forgive me for generalizing, but I am guessing those who would not like it were in the theaters showing M3GAN.  A Man Called Otto is one of those films that, aside from the emotional side of things, you need to pay attention to in order to get the full experience.  Some of this is on the macro-level, such as the setting being America’s rust belt.  It is meant to be symbolic of the way in which Otto is dying as he tries to remain useful.  On a more personal level, I appreciate the way in which the film handles Otto’s character.  He is a trained engineer, and he applies his know-how to everything he does, including how he goes about trying to kill himself.  For example, he cannot simply put a gun to his head in his living room.  Instead, he must line his surroundings with plastic.  Aside from being a testament to the precision with which he lives his life, it also speaks to the way in which he misses his Sonya.  This is not unique to this kind of person, but it makes sense that somebody who is used to having everything just so would not want anything else to change in the wake of her death.  These kinds of details make for a rich viewing experience.

For A Man Called Otto, his desire is to hold onto the past.  As the movie shows, he used to live.  This is contradicted later when he admits that he lived for Sonya.  When she dies, he wants to join her.  There is a telling moment in this regard when Marisol offers to help him pack up Sonya’s things to help him “move on.”  He bitterly replies that he does not want to move on, that there was nothing before or after her.  Faith will tell you otherwise.  To this end, there is an unintentionally Catholic moment when he is about to commit suicide with the shotgun and he has an experience with Sonya telling him to live.  It reminds me of the process the Church uses for proclaiming a person a saint.  It does not necessarily have to be exactly like this, but one of the key components is the deceased directly intervening in our lives.  One thing to make clear, though, is that these are not the souls of the potential saint acting on its own, but doing so at God’s will.  The natural question that arises, then, is how does one know the difference?  The answer is easier than you might think.  God only has our benefit in mind.  Hence, Sonya getting Otto not to commit suicide, which is a tragic sin, is consistent with how God would prevent such an act.  In fact, God speaks to us repeatedly in such moments, though unfortunately we seldom recognize it.  Today’s film is a testament to this fact.

In telling my sister about A Man Called Otto, I told her that it hit me in “all the feels.”  The scene that stands out is Otto and Sonya’s first date.  He is eating a simple soup, while she is tucking into a full steak dinner.  When she asks why he is not also having an entrée, he admits that he did not have the money to pay for two meals but made sure she ate well.  It was such a touching act of kindness that I knew I would be crying by the end of the movie.  And I did.  I doubt M3GAN had any prayer of eliciting such a response.

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