‘A Man Called Otto’ Teaches Love of Neighbor

My son and I went to see Tom Hanks’ new movie, A Man Called Otto, recently. On the way to the theater, I commented to him that I really had no idea what the plot was. He didn’t either. He simply wanted to see it because he likes Tom Hanks and the trailer looked funny.

Imagine my surprise when I found a beautiful movie that focused on the importance of loving your neighbor. Interspersed with that is a subtle commentary on the value of all people.

This is a lesson pro-life people have always tried to teach. Being pro-life is not just about saving babies. We see the value and dignity of all people—born and preborn. And A Man Called Otto knocks this truth out of the proverbial park.

Otto is a grouchy and cantankerous widower who is deeply grieving the recent loss of his wife. In one of the opening scenes, we see Otto buying rope and causing a problem at the hardware store because he felt he was overcharged. Upon his arrival home, he meets some new neighbors—a lovely pregnant Hispanic mother named Marisol, her husband, and their two adorable daughters. Irritated with the father’s attempt to parallel park, Otto jumps in the car to do it for him.

Just a few minutes later, back in his home, Otto forms a noose, attaches it to the ceiling, and is about to secure it around his neck when there’s a knock at the door. It’s the couple. They brought him food and thanked him for his help.

The movie continues on like this, with Marisol lovingly insinuating herself and her family into Otto’s life. She can tell he’s lonely and sad, though she does not realize the extent of his grief. But it is her constant love, her outreach, and her kindness that change him and that help him see that he matters.

Otto is soon able to look outside his grief to see the pain that others around him feel—and he takes steps to help them. Through interactions with a disabled friend and a young transgender student, Otto comes to the realization that people need one another and that all human beings have value—even though many in the world fail to see this.

Though the inclusion of the transgender student seemed to be done for politically correct reasons, it does gives credence to the fact that all human beings deserve love and compassion. We don’t need to agree with or advocate a person changing his or her sex to know that this person deserves love and compassion. We don’t get to assign value to one person and not another. We don’t get to pick and choose who matters. It is our job as children of God to teach His word, to treat others as He would, and to love.

The movie is a beautiful reminder that we must look out for our neighbors, whether they be our physical neighbors or people within our communities.

Marisol could have been put off by Otto’s grumpy demeanor. She could have just rolled her eyes, walked away, and written him off like many in his housing complex did. But she reached out. She welcomed him into her life. She loved him. And through her actions, she literally saved his life.

Not only that, but her actions had a snowball effect, as the broken bonds of friendship of some of the others in the complex began to heal.

With all the worthless movies out there, it was refreshing to see one that focused on the dignity of all people and one that showed how we can love through our actions.

We may never see the fruits of our kinds deeds or know the extent of how others benefit from our help, but the recipient knows. God knows. And that’s all we need.

It shouldn’t take a movie to make us see that all people have value, but it’s sure a blessing to have a movie illustrate this fact.

This article first appeared in Catholic World Report at catholicworldreport.com/2023/01/25/a-man-called-otto-a-powerful-portrayal-of-love-of-neighbor.

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About the author

Susan Ciancio

Susan Ciancio is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine and executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program.