Violence Against Women
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self Esteem and Body Image
Language and Sexual Content
Violence Against Women: 5 Stars (Spoilers)
There is one rape scene in the movie “O”, that some may find particularly unsettling - because it takes place between a couple that is supposed to be in love. What’s remarkable about this rape scene is that it depicts the far more common experience of “date rape,” rather than the less likely scenario of a stranger assaulting a woman with a knife. “O” still succeeds in revealing the brutality that can occur during what starts out as a consensual sexual encounter. The scene roughly exposes the reasons that date rape is a far more traumatic invasion and form of abuse than some might realize.
This scene might have been a bit more difficult to analyze if the film hadn’t addressed the issue head on and called it what it is. Although Desi tries to downplay what happened, avoiding the word “rape” and even bringing up race in order to deflect the conversation, her roommate isn’t afraid to speak the truth. Desi told him to stop and he refused. He hurt her. He demeaned her. He raped her.
Gender Roles - Women: 2 Stars
We don’t know much about Desi, outside of her relationship with Odin. She’s given no personal goals or plans for the future. She’s pursuing an education at a prestigious prep academy and she has a very wealthy and influential father, but we have no idea what she plans to do with these resources. She’s initially an assertive girl, who stands up to her father, and also stands up to Odin when her integrity is questioned. But some of this strength falters and wanes as the movie progresses. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have enough screen time or dialogue to fully explain how she goes from someone so progressive and even rebellious, to someone so vulnerable and insecure.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
Odin is an athlete. He’s aggressive, competitive, possessive and jealous - all traits that make him admired by his male peers, and increasingly intimidating to the woman he claims to love. The one thing that Odin has in his favor is that he’s surprisingly open with his emotions. Whether speaking to Desi or Hugo, he’s not embarrassed or weakened by admitting how much he cares for her. He does however, feel the need to respond with force and violence when he begins to believe that Desi has been unfaithful, perpetuating the long-standing myth that a man’s masculinity is tied up in his sexual control of a woman. And that the only way to salvage his reputation and heal his wounds is through violence.
The other male characters, Hugo, Michael, Coach Duke, and the Dean, aren’t much better. They’re similarly aggressive and power-hungry, with antiquated ideas about masculinity and female sexuality.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2.5 Stars
Desi seems to have a strong sense of self when the film opens. But it’s clear that her self-esteem begins to break down as her relationship with Odin becomes more unpredictable and confrontational. While it’s frustrating to see an empowered young woman so easily bowed when she’s mistreated by someone she loves, there’s also a stark and heavy realism behind her transformation.
Desi's isn’t unnecessarily glamorized with extravagant costumes or strings of admirers, but her appearance does seems to be the primary reason that Odin is drawn to her. He even suggests to Hugo that she is a sort of prize he never thought himself worthy of. If Desi were given a bit more personality, this admission wouldn’t seem as superficial, but given the context, it’s more objectifying than it is romantic.
Plot: 1 Star (Spoilers)
Anyone familiar with Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, knows that Desi doesn’t make it out alive - and that she never has an opportunity to do anything fierce or heroic before she’s killed. She does defend herself against Odin’s accusations, but her arguments aren’t much in the face of the abuse she tolerates from him. She simply doesn’t have the will power to turn Odin away, and in the end, she’s little more than a tool for Hugo’s master plan to destroy Odin.
One could argue that Desi’s roommate, Emily, has a short-lived but critical moment of strength at the end of the film. She fearlessly calls out Hugo for his lies and manipulation, and reveals the role he played in Odin’s downfall. But Emily is also responsible for helping Hugo pull off the entire affair. She had plenty of prior opportunities to come forward. And by the time she finds the nerve to stand up and say something, it’s far too late to reverse course.
Character Development: 2 Stars
Desi isn’t given nearly enough screen time or dialogue to establish her character. It isn’t even clear whether she intends to leave Odin or confront him after each of his abuses. She talks briefly with Emily about the changes that she sees in Odin. But there isn’t enough dialogue to reveal what she thinks of any of it. It’s possible that she’s concerned her father might have been right in mistrusting Odin. Or that she feels herself slipping into the role of an abused girlfriend, becoming the sort of woman that she never thought she could become. Putting up with such abusive words and behaviors and still allowing him to come back into her bed. We can certainly guess that she’s struggling to reconcile long-held principles about race, class, equality and self-respect, but none of this happens on screen.
Love: 2.5 Stars
Odin and Desi appear to genuinely care for each other before things go awry. But it’s also clear that they come from very different worlds. Whether or not they would have made it past this initial stage of infatuation and learned how to respect and appreciate each other’s flaws and inconsistencies is anyone’s guess. Although Hugo played a large role in tearing apart this doomed couple, he did so by manipulating jealousies and insecurities that were already there. Hugo didn’t force Odin to do and say the things he did, and there’s a good possibility that these feelings would have surfaced on their own in due time - though the ending might not have been as tragic. The film does score higher than might be expected, however, for simply illustrating the possible end result of this kind of selfish and possessive love.
Language and Sexual Content: 3 Stars
For a film whose primary plot point is a woman’s infidelity, “O” does a remarkable job of staying away from demeaning terms relating to women’s sexuality. Neither Hugo nor Odin ever resort to any base or sexist terms when speaking of Desi. To the contrary, Odin’s reaction is more hurt than spite. Overall, the film is about pain, betrayal, and trust, not promiscuity. Odin’s friend Michael does refer to a supporting character, Brandy, as a “slut,” but considering the content of the film, the fact that this only comes up on one occasion is fairly impressive.
Likewise, the sexual intimacy that takes place between Odin and Desi is initially sweet and comforting. And when it does take an unexpected turn, it’s abundantly clear that Odin’s behavior is cruel and malicious. His actions are unjustified, irregular and undeniably criminal.
Friendship: .5 star (Spoilers)
Both the male and female friendships in “O” are built on stereotypes. Odin, Hugo and Michael are friends on the basketball court, but they don’t seem too familiar with each other’s personal lives or what lies below the surface. If Odin knew a bit more about these men’s true characters, he wouldn’t have been so quick to believe that Michael had betrayed him. And he might have been a bit more suspicious of Hugo’s intentions.
The friendship between Desi and Emily on the other hand is not only empty, but utterly deceptive. Emily says nothing when Odin begins questioning Desi on her missing scarf, even though she is the one who took it and gave it to Hugo. She offers Desi a shoulder to cry on when things get rough and uncomfortable with Odin, but she never reveals what she knows or what she’s done. And in the end, her passive role in Hugo’s games ends up costing Desi her life.