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'A Man Called Otto' is Yet Another Reminder of the Capricious Ravages of Time
When all my heroes are now old and gray, what does that say about me?
This is not a film review, but I think it’s necessary to briefly touch-on what A Man Called Otto is because the title alone is super unhelpful.
Here’s how I imagine someone pitched this movie: Gran Torino + Up, made by the Hallmark Channel. Tom Hanks—sorry, Otto—is a deeply unpleasant man because he lost his long-time boo, until a chance meeting with a young(er) person reminds him that life isn’t that bad, actually, when you aren’t going around being a dickhead.
It’s a good story, if a tad cheesy at points. You’ll probably cry, but you’ll feel happy about it. Marisol (Mariana Treviño) is the movie’s MVP.
The first scene has Tom shopping in a hardware store. Maybe it was the harsh fluorescent lighting. Maybe I just haven’t seen a Tom Hanks movie in a while. But I was struck by a sudden realization.
“When did Tom Hanks become a grandpa?”
It was a rhetorical question. I did not expect my wife to have an answer, and anyway, she was trying to watch the movie. I’m not the sort that talks during a movie, but seeing Tom looking gray and worn literally shocked the words out of me.1
My wife shrugged. What could she say? “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah.”2
The literal answer: Tom’s been a grandpa since 2011. But that’s not what I was asking. I actually didn’t even think to wonder about that until I was writing this.
I was asking something more simple yet profound—where has all the time gone?
It’s the refrain of every person who has looked in the mirror and noticed they suddenly have wrinkles. It seems to happen practically overnight. Forget the carpet matching the drapes—there are no drapes!
Despite literally all evidence to the contrary, we somehow thought we’d live forever.
It’s actually quite easy to continue denying this truth. Just avoid all mirrors. And maybe scales, too, while you’re at it, just to be safe. But unless you’re willing to live in a cave to preserve this fantasy, there is no escaping what time does to others. It’s hard to note the passage of time in the faces of our friends and loved ones. They’re too familiar, and we see them too often. But our cinematic heroes, those faces we intimately know but only see once a year at best? That’s different.
The idealized version of our heroes remain as they were back when they were young. And it’s this version we typically think of first.
For me, the original Star Wars movies and the Indiana Jones trilogy has forever immortalized Harrison Ford as 40-ish years-old. Just now, when I thought of him, that’s what I pictured.
Harrison looks nothing like this now. It’s been 40 years—how could he? I know that, but it doesn’t mean I can accept it. Or will, happily.
When I first discovered Harrison—sorry, calling him Ford sounds too unfamiliar, we’ve been through too much together—he was the oldest of the trio headlining Star Wars. I can still clearly remember the sense of vertigo when I realized I was the same age as the Han Solo I’d spent my life watching. Years have passed and now I’m older than he was.
“I get older, they stay the same age.”
Wooderson’s super-icky quote works just as well for movie stars. They are preserved in celluloid as though it were prehistoric amber. Indiana Jones. Captain Miller. Josh Baskin. That is who we remember when we remember them—the characters. Which allows us to overlook the inconvenient truth that our heroes are aging out as fast as we are.
This willing disbelief persists until we see them in something new. Facing that truth is not easy because it means we’re getting older, too.
I loved Harrison Ford in Shrinking. He was the best part, and I don’t just say that as the president of his fan club. I legitimately didn’t know he could be so funny. It’s a good look. But I’d be lying if I said seeing him as an old man didn’t hurt my heart. The newer Indiana Jones movies use a lot of CGI smoke and mirrors to mask reality, but there was no hiding it in Shrinking. He even looked a bit… frail.
This is the guy who once punched Nazis and dangled from tanks and shot at Darth Vader. Now he looks like someone who needs an afghan and some pudding.
In A Man Called Otto, Tom Hanks plays a crotchety old man. By all accounts, Hanks is a lovely person. A real mensh. But he is entirely believable as grumpy-ass Otto because he looks the part. He’s gotten hella old.
That’s life. The ones who grow old are the lucky ones. But sometimes it doesn’t feel lucky. Sometimes it just feels sad.
A Man Called Otto is currently streaming on Netflix.
We were watching the movie on Netflix at home. People who talk at the movie theater should be taken out back and beaten with a frozen hose.
If she had said that, I would’ve immediately put another ring on it.