How Food Can Become a New Beginning
by Abby Kliensorge
In A Man Called Otto (2023), we follow the tear-jerking story about a man who recently lost the love of his life. Otto could be described as a grumpy, reclusive, and no-nonsense older man. With the loss of his only love (Sonya), a well-loved woman who is stated to be a wonderful cook, Otto is determined to join her in the afterlife as he doesn’t know how to go on without her. Throughout the story we watch Otto’s many attempts to end his life, but we also see Otto find reasons to live. Otto slowly shows his softer side by becoming friends with many people in his neighborhood but more specifically a new young family that moves into town. He begins to become a more prominent member of the neighborhood by helping others. His new neighbor Marisol slowly wriggles her way into his life, arguably beginning with her ethnic and delectable food.
In the beginning of the movie, we see Otto meet his new neighbor Marisol who he is very annoyed with but ends up helping. To introduce herself and her husband (Tommy), Marisol brings Otto a dish called “pollo con mole,” or chicken with a savory chile and chocolate sauce, going into detail about her Hispanic heritage. Otto, seemingly upset with their having interrupted his suicide attempt, still indulges in conversation with his new neighbors and even goes as far as helping them yet again. Afterwards Otto goes inside and sits down to eat the dish provided by Marisol as seen in figure one. He enjoys it, if his continuous “Mmm’s” are anything to go by. This is the first meal given to Otto from Marisol, which I believe signifies his new beginning. After finishing the meal, he again tries to continue with his attempt, but thankfully fails. Yet, even though he still has attempts afterwards, Otto becomes more of a member of the community and fosters new relationships, that end up giving him more to live for.
Later in the film Marisol and Tommy bring back a tool they borrowed from Otto along with a new food, Salvadoran cookies called “salporanz.” They again ask to borrow an item from Otto. In obliging them, he runs into another neighbor who needs his assistance, and Marisol convinces him to help the newcomer as well. Soon after, Otto has another attempt but not before he tries Marisol’s cookies as seen in figure two, which produces many more “Mmm’s.” Afterwards he is interrupted by Marisol, which saves him from his impending death. Even further into the film, Otto asks for more of the cookies she provided before.
Throughout the film food is shown to reveal possibilities, in which represent a new beginning rather than the end he contemplates. Arguably, a parallel could be seen between Sonya having been a wonderful cook and his pleasure over Marisol’s food. While eating the cookies during one of his attempts, seen again in figure two, Otto reflects on his past with Sonya. While he seems to be stuck in his past the cookies are very much representative of his potential future. The darkness of the image could represent the anguish that Otto feels towards the past and even future, yet the cookies indicate that sliver of light and hope. Food could be viewed here as something that inadvertently gives Otto a beginning instead of an end. The food is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Otto and Marisol’s family, which also ends up saving Otto from his nonstop attempts on his own life. Otto transforms from the grumpy and reclusive neighbor into someone who is well-loved and counted on by various people in his neighborhood, which begins from a simple meal provided by a new neighbor.
A Man Called Otto. Dir. Marc Forster. Perf. Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Rachel Keller, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. Sony Pictures Releasing, 2023. Streaming.