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Our reviewer, Board member Ruth DuBois, was so moved by a movie recently that she decided to write this wonderful review of the movie rather than a book this month.

Movie Review A Man Called Otto

Based on the book, A Man Called Ove (2015) by Fredrik Backman, the movie A Man Called Otto (2022) starring Tom Hanks and Mariana Trevino, is a touching performance of grief as experienced by one older, curmudgeonly man. Otto has recently lost his wife, the centre of his world. As the story unfolds, Otto’s past is glimpsed in sequential clips of his budding relationship with a pretty stranger on a train, his awkward wooing of her, and his subsequent marriage to what was probably the only woman he ever loved. Tragedy strikes early in their marriage, but based on his undying love and capacity to change, Otto supports his young wife into their senior years at which time she ultimately predeceases him.

The movie depicts Otto’s struggle to grieve this enormous loss as, through his naturally introspective and gruff demeanor, he gives over to obsession with rules, compulsive cleanliness and sense of order, and dark thoughts of suicide. At this point, you may wonder why you would want to watch such deterioration in a person, and where you could possibly find humour, redemption, and joy.

But, that is just the point. How can grief be reflected in any of those qualities? And how might one’s life evolve meaningful relationships and actions when one is so lost in the despair of grief? How might the interactions of strangers and by-standers make any difference to the bleak and dreary world of the bereaved? What difference do human interactions make in the lives of those around us, and how might the concept of family be re-created through chance meetings? And how does the experience of our past provide fodder for the experience of our present, of our future?

For the person experiencing acute grief and longing after the death of a significant other, A Man Called Otto might be exquisitely and painfully realistic of the misery, yet hopeful in its message of growth beyond the suffering. Be prepared to weep, but also to come away with the possibility that life can go on, the love of the deceased within one’s being rather than external to it. As the film is soon to be aired on Netflix, watching in the privacy of one’s home might be more comfortable than in the darkened but more public movie theatre.

For the person who is walking beside someone grieving a significant loss, the movie provides a glimpse of how many men grieve, that is, outwardly stoic and gruff, yet profoundly pained and saddened within. It highlights how the small gestures of support and tolerance by others, even acquaintances, can exert profound meaning and care, easing the pain, and encouraging the restoration of desire to go on living, and to find meaning in the suffering.

The book was good, but the movie was even more impactful, well portrayed by the cast. I would definitely recommend either as a means to understanding an expression of grief, and the reality that out of grief can emerge hope and meaning.

About Ruth DuBois

Ruth’s background in palliative care stems from over 42 years of work as an RN and nurse educator in a variety of areas including geriatrics, surgery, medicine, mental health, and community home care.