Shakespeare composed the tragedy Othello televisions were not. Along with no
televisions, life in the late 1500s had many different qualities than it does
today. This time period had no war on drugs and no high school shootings. Peer
pressure was not an issue. The audiences of Othello in the 1500s did not face
the circumstances that we, American high school students, face today. With
these significant differences in daily life, come the attempts of movie
creators to help prevent our modern day tragedies.
The movie “O”, released on August 31, 2001,
is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello set in a college predatory school. This
movie, shelved over two years due to the epidemic of high school shootings in
the late 1990s, is an attempt to take in hand these disasters caused by peer
pressure and jealousy (Kurnit). “O” is an effective restoration of
Shakespeare’s Othello in this day and age as it addresses issues that are
imperative and dangerous to its audience.
Jealousy is a dominating factor in both the modern day
and Shakespearean Othello. In Othello, the jealousy develops from Iago, who
thinks he has been overlooked as his flag officer and as Othello’s loyal best
friend. In “O”, Hugo is jealous of his father’s relationship with
Odin. Hugo’s father, Duke, is also the basketball coach of the team both Odin
and Hugo play for. Odin is the team captain and receives the “most
valuable player” award which he shares with his “go-to guy,”
Mike–not Hugo. Hugo believes that he is the M.V.P. of the Hawks and is filled
with jealousy when his father gives the award to Odin and says, “I’m very
proud to say this publicly, I love him like my own son” (“O”).
I’ve always wanted to live like a hawk. I know you’re
not supposed to be jealous of anything, but to take flight, to soar above
everything and everyone, that’s living. A hawk is no good around other birds.
Even though all the other birds probably want to be hawks, they hate him for
what they can’t be: proud, powerful, determined. Odin is a hawk. He soars above
us. He can fly. (“O”)
Hugo knows he is envious of Odin. He compares him to a
hawk and himself and everyone else to “other birds” which were
portrayed as doves in “O”. He is jealous that his father appreciates
Odin more than his own son. Hugo believes that his father gives Odin special
treatment when his behavior should be grounds dismissing him from the team.
However, when it is Odin who blunders, Coach Duke asks the dean for “just
one more game.” The father-son relationship with Odin and Hugo’s father
supplemented Hugo’s jealously motives in “O”. This addition is a
situation that modern audiences can relate to more easily than an overlook for
a rank promotion as in Othello. This jealousy presented in “O” is an
aspect of high school that all teenagers can relate to–whether one is envious
of another, or is the victim of a green-eyed peer.
There’s nothing wrong with being smart. There’s
nothing wrong with being jealous. There’s nothing wrong with being emotional.
You can relate to all those things and just pile them all on top of each other
and then look at what’s happening around you. Your dad is recognizing someone
else as his son and then that guy is recognizing someone else as his go-to-guy.
Nobody is recognizing you as anything anymore; you’ve got nobody and you just
get desperate. (Hartnett)
Besides Odin’s relationship with Duke, Hugo is also
jealous of Odin’s picture-perfect romance with Desi. His original scheme to
retaliate on Odin is to break the two up. He doesn’t initially plan on the
tragedy that results from this jealous move. Emily (Emilia) is also jealous of
Desi and Odin’s relationship; that is why she steals the scarf for Hugo. Hugo
also plays Roger (Roderigo), whom he convinces to call Desi’s father, Dean
Brable (Brabantio), and tell him “something has been stolen” from
him–his daughter. After Desi clears the rumor with her father, Dean Brable
tells Odin, “She deceived me, what makes you think she won’t do the same
to you?” This begins Odin’s suspicions of Desi’s dishonesty to him.
Hugo increases Odin’s suspicions of Desi cheating on
him with Mike by asking Odin if Mike and Desi used to date. Odin shrugs it off,
but Hugo’s comment eats at him. Hugo tells Odin, “Watch her. If she keep
hangin’ out with Mike and talking’ about him, then we got something to talk
about. We don’t let on, bro. Just watch.” In Othello, we wonder why
Othello doesn’t simply ask Desdemona if she is having an affair. “O”
gives an explanation for Odin’s silence–the advice from his trusted friend to
“just watch.” Hugo knows that he will be found out if Odin does
anything but just watch.
Violence in “O” is also a main aim to
retelling “O” for an audience of high school students today. Beside
the fact that using swords to kill each other may not fit with the setting of
“O”, guns were an important addition to the movie. School shootings
were on the rise even as “O” was in the making. In just three years
(1997-1999) fifteen school shootings occurred throughout the United States:
Onalaska, Washington; Springfield, Oregon; Pomona, California; Deming, Alaska;
Littleton, Colorado; Fort Gibson, Oklahoma; St. Charles, Missouri; Jonesboro,
Arkansas; Pearl, Mississippi; Houston, Texas; Johnston, Rhode Island; Edinboro,
Pennsylvania; West Paducah, Kentucky; Fayetteville, Tennessee; Conyer, Georgia
(list). It was becoming apparent that school violence was a serious issue that
needed to be addressed.
We’ve taken a Shakespearean tragedy and set it
credibly in American high school. Othello in high school sounds pretty silly,
but we’re in a place in America right now in which it’s not silly. It’s
serious. It’s believable (Nelson).
Just before the climax of “O”, Odin
(Othello) begins using speed to stay up on his basketball game. It makes him
delusional, and the fact that he is so gullible to Hugo’s (Iago) lies become
more believable. In today’s world, we cannot relate to passion so intense that
it makes one blind to the facts, as Othello is when he accuses Desdemona of
having an affair. To make Odin’s tragic flaws of naïveté and mistrust more
believable, the director Tim Blake Nelson felt it necessary to address drug
Since we are reimagining Othello in an American high
school setting, it’s hard not to address drugs. You could argue that having
Odin be on drugs at the end of the movie actually weakens the true power of
jealousy itself as a motivating factor for murder. Nevertheless, since this
film is meant to be a true reflection of American high school life now, I think
the issue of drugs needed to be addressed and that’s why they’re in this film.
They also serve the purpose to make it more credible that Odin buys into Hugo’s
story. His perspective is distorted due to the fact that he’s on drugs.
The use of drugs and alcohol in “O” provides
for a more believable and understandable story line. If Hugo did not have Mike
constantly drinking too much, his lies could not have remained unknown. But the
veil that the drugs and alcohol created made it simple for Hugo to be
everyone’s best friend and also his or her worst enemy. Drugs are a factor in
high school life and adding this truth to the remake of Othello only brings the
approximately six hundred year old play to life for an audience in today’s
The movie “O” is rated “R” for its
language, but this too was a necessary addition to the script. Without strong
language, it would be difficult to believe the passion the characters are
feeling. Every character is angry, hurt, or confused and expression of these
emotions today often includes cursing. It would sound almost abnormal if Odin
said, “It was that white prep school boy over there that twisted my
head up,” just before he turned the gun on himself. It’s not emotional
without the language that would naturally come with the situation.
To address the issues of the present world with a play
written hundreds of years in the past seems laughable, but the emotions that
the characters in both Othello and “O” are the same; the only
difference is the setting. “O” is truly a more complete version of
“O” as it gives the audience more reasoning to the jealousy of the
characters and the actions they take. With the changed setting come many
differences: drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, violence, and different sources
for jealousy and hatred. These issues are the dilemmas we, as teenagers in this
new millennium, are faced with day to day. “O” addresses these new
era evils without abandoning the original themes and major issues of
Shakespeare’s Othello. The audience can relate to a story written down hundreds
of years ago and benefit from it.