A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the film's original theatrical release was delayed because of its violence. As in the original play, characters are brutally murdered, and there is rape and suicide. Teen characters smoke, drink, and use drugs. The language is extremely harsh, including the n-word and a homophobic epithet, as well as some very harsh rap lyrics on the soundtrack. A consensual sexual encounter turns into a rape, and there are other sexual references and situations. A girl is referred to as a slut.
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What's the story?
O is a retelling of Shakespeare's Othello, set in a contemporary southern prep school. Odin (Mekhi Phifer), a talented black athlete, the only black student in the school, is in love with Desi (Julia Stiles), the headmaster's daughter. Instead of Iago, the trusted friend who's consumed with jealousy is Hugo (Josh Hartnett), the coach's son. Othello explores deeply troublesome issues regarding race, sexuality, promiscuity, trust and jealousy, and this version does it justice.
Is it any good?
Othello works exceptionally well in a high school setting because so much of the plot fits in with the overheated emotions and impetuousness of adolescence. The plot turns on rumors, misunderstandings, trusting the wrong people, and jumping to conclusions, all of which will seem familiar to teenagers. They will also be very familiar with the racial issues, and their impact on O's hypersensitivity to believing that Desi is faithful to him. Hugo's use of steroids deepens the credibility of his fury at Odin's success.
Odin shows his conflicts about women when he asks Desi, "If you were a virgin like you said you were, how come you acting all freaky?" This is typical of immature people who can't reconcile mature sexuality as a reflection of true intimacy. First-time director Tim Blake Nelson (who was last seen singing "In the Jailhouse Now" in O Brother Where Art Thou) shows a strong command of the storyline and imaginative use of visuals that underscore the movie's themes. He gets very strong performances from the actors, especially Hartnett and Phifer and Martin Sheen as the coach. Despite the outcry of Shakespeare elitests everywhere, O does a great job of transporting the The Moor of Venice into a contemporary setting and into the lives of contemporary teens in terms they can understand.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how easy it can be to shake someone's trust, and how difficult it is to determine who we should believe. Does Odin doubt Desi so quickly because he's unsure about himself?
Would he be so quick to believe that she was unfaithful to him if Mike was black? Would Hugo be so angry at Odin if were white?
What do you think about O's use of the n-word and his reaction when he's told that Mike and Desi call him that behind his back? When Hugo is invited to have dinner with his father, why does the camera show only Hugo?
Since this is based on a play written in the very early seventeenth century (1603) it has its roots in classical Greek tragedies where the hero (Odin) always has a "fatal flaw" that will, no matter what, lead to his down fall. What do you feel is Odin's fatal flaw?
Why do you think that race is such a large issue between the three main characters, Desi, Odin and Hugo?
- In theaters: August 31, 2001
- On DVD or streaming: February 19, 2002
- Cast: Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Mekhi Phifer
- Director: Tim Blake Nelson
- Studio: Trimark
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, a scene of strong sexuality, language and drug use
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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