Thematic Parallels Between Othello and Tim Blake Nelson's O Carolanne Bonanno
Doves, hawks, basketball and handkerchiefs - visual metaphors abound in Tim Blake Nelson's film adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello, “O.” Given that the rendition takes place in modern times, many aspects of the story's plot and theme had to be given a new appearance, making the characters and story more believable for modern viewers. Some metaphors, however, are more thematic than anything else, allowing the viewer to attain a better view into the psyches of the characters. During a first viewing of “O,” one may think that one particular scene may not appear to have any base in Shakespeare's play at all - the slam-dunk competition. Certainly, there is nothing in the plot that directly resembles this sequence, but what about theme? The scene revolves around the Othello character, Odin, and his violent actions as a result of his envy, i.e. his shattering the backboard. This is quite reminiscent of an incident in act 4, scene 1 of Shakespeare's play, where Othello strikes Desdemona while a minor character, Lodovico, is present. While it may not be the explicit representation of this aspect of Othello's anger, the slam-dunk contest in “O” thematically represents these characteristics as exhibited in act 4, scene 1. In order to fully dissect the symbolism occurring in this scene, an understanding of Othello, the central character, must be obtained. At this point in the plot, Othello has lost nearly all control of himself to his jealousy; in the play, he and Iago have just been speaking of how Othello is going to kill Desdemona; in “O,” Odin is high on cocaine and Hugo (Iago) has given him the misinformation that Desi (Desdemona) and Michael (Cassio) have been sleeping together. Obviously, Othello is in a very emotionally unstable condition, and being in the public eye only worsens matters. The theme of Othello's actions becoming exposed to the public eye is one of the more superficial layers of meaning in the slam-dunk scene, but a very critical one thematically. In the original Shakespeare, Othello strikes Desdemona in the company of Lodovico, a Venetian nobleman. This very action implies that Othello is so engrossed in his emotion that he simply does not care that other people can see his anger and subsequent violence towards his wife. In “O,” it can even be said that this concept has been magnified - Odin's violent actions do not occur in front of one person, but instead in front of an entire crowd of people. Another noteworthy aspect of these scenes is the parallel in reactions between the two works. Lodovico's first response does include surprise, but it is also a call for Othello to remedy his actions: “My lord, this would not be believed in Venice, / Though I should swear I saw't. `Tis very much; / Make her amends - she weeps” (IV.1.236-238); during “O,” when Odin destroys the backboard and pushes the ball boy down, the crowd simply boos at him. Both responses are appropriate to the contexts they take place in, but both express displeasure at Othello's actions. To further prove the point that Othello holds no regard for anyone else's opinion at this point, he ignores the responses in both contexts and continues harboring his negative feelings. In Shakespeare's script, Othello continues to rant about how evil he believes Desdemona is: “If that the earth could teem with woman's tears, / Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile” (IV.1.239-240), whereas in “O,” Odin remains silent and simply struts around the basketball court with his arms outstretched while the crowd boos him. Both actions hint at the more selfish aspect of Othello's emotions; by ignoring his surroundings and clinging to his beliefs, he proves that he is thinking more about himself at this point than anything else. What to make, however, of the lack of violence towards Desdemona herself in “O”? What do a shattered backboard and a ball boy have to do with her? This concept...
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