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Comparison of Shakespeare's tragedy, "Othello," and the movie, "O" (2000)
"O" and "Othello"

Nelson's 2000 production of the movie "O:"“O” by Tim Blake Nelson, 2000 Nelson’s 2000 movie production of “O” is based on Shakespeare’s play “Othello,” and shows differences as well as similarities to the original seventeenth century play by William Shakespeare. The themes of jealousy, racial bias, and deceit function as structure for both narratives. The same trap is laid for the main character in both versions and the numerous deaths occur in the final scene. Nelson sets his story in a modern era prep school, and his characters are not the adults of Shakespeare's play.

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“O” by Tim Blake Nelson, 2000

        Nelson’s 2000 movie production of “O” shows differences as well as similarities to the original.  The themes of jealousy, racial bias, and deceit function as structure for both..  In both versions, the Michael Cassio character is goaded into a drunken state, and a brawl ensues which damages his reputation.  The scarf came from Othello’s mother, and serves to bait the jealousy of O.  The scarf is taken from Desi who is unaware of the fact until Othello/Oden wants her to show the scarf to him.  In both narratives, the scarf passes from a female friend of Desdemona to her lover in a bedroom scene.  In both stories, Iago/Hugo has no particular respect for women in general.  Bianca is a courtesan; Brandi is a slut.  Other name similarities include Brandon for Brabant, in both cases the father of Desdemona/Desi.  Another includes Oden for Othello.  The coach in “O” is called by his nickname Duke, with the Duke in Shakespeare’s version being the character who must bestow the judgment of laws and the appointment of the commander his campaign, be it the military or the basketball court.  Redheaded Roger looks out-of-place among the brunette boy preppies in attendance at the Twentieth Century School, and is ridiculed by his peers.  Rodrigo’s character, in Shakespeare’s version, is an overdramatic simple-minded sort, who dearly loves Desdemona, as if only he could be her puppy.  Though Rodrigo’s affections seem adolescent, Shakespeare’s version includes a jealousy that Nelson’s version does not allow.  The movie’s character Roger is chided as a “faggot” while Shakespeare’s Rodrigo acts like an adolescent in love, speaking of suicide at the loss of the Desdemona he never had the chance to love.  The similarities between the movie “O” and Shakespeare’s “Othello” leave no question as to the heritage of this updated production.

        The main difference in the two narratives of “O” and “Othello” is Nelson’s choice of setting, in time and geographic location--a modern-era prep school, a hip-hop soundtrack, and a plethora of profanity portray these tragic series of events as occurring in the present time.  Nelson’s setting shows the politics involved in high school basketball play.  Desdemona states her duty to Brabantino, her biological parent as well as her educator when she is questioned about her relationship with Othello.  Since Desi is the daughter of the school’s dean, Nelson included this character.  However, the end of her speech is different in the movie.  “It’s none of your business,” Desi tells her father when he questions her.  Desdemona is married to Othello, but Oden and Desi are pretending a married relationship, symbolized by the rubber band Oden gives Desi to wear as a wedding ring.  The movie version does not give the love relationship the status of holy or legal wedlock.  The contemporary movie shows more overt sexual behaviour, and Oden’s vision of Michael Cassius in bed with Desi instead of himself, and his subsequent rough treatment of her in this sexual encounter, adds another layer to the personal conflicts involved in interracial relationships.  Desi’s girlfriend asks her, when she is told that Desi told Oden to stop his aggressive sexual behaviour, though he ignored her cries of pain, “Would this matter to you if he was white (instead of black)?”  The relationships of the women characters are similar, but the differences in time and setting require additional editing of the original.  Nelson uses the differences from Shakespeare’s story to emphasize the play’s original themes.  In families, schools, and members of basketball teams villains will devise deceit for revenge of perceived wrong.  Jealousy is in the nature of mankind, and not a result of some timely fad.  In any year, jealousy may befall “one who (loves) wisely, but not too well.”

WC 626
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