A Man Called Otto: An accurate reflection of life without purpose

Caution: I reveal several spoilers in this movie review.

Earlier this week, I saw the movie A Man Called Otto for the second time. It really resonates with me for several reasons, as I think it will with anyone over the age of 50 and, especially, those people who are retired.

Otto is an older man, played masterfully by Tom Hanks. He was pushed out of a job he enjoyed as a mechanical engineer. When Otto shows up for work one morning, the entire staff is gathered with a cake to wish him well. His co-workers couldn’t even wait until the end of the day to celebrate his departure.

That’s the first thing people over 50 have to realize. When they retire, they will be immediately forgotten. In fact, there are likely several people jockeying for their job, office, computer, desk chair, etc.

Otto’s boss tells everyone how much he will be missed. However, Otto responds by reminding the boss that, yes, he took the severance package when offered, but only because the company promoted a man Otto trained to be his direct supervisor.

That’s just like corporations today. We have interviewed people at Forward From 50 who have had to train their replacements long before they were ready to quit their jobs.

There is a celebratory cake decorated with an edible photo of Otto and wishing him well. To add insult to being pushed out of the job, a younger coworker cuts right through Otto’s face. It symbolizes how anxious the staff is to eliminate him from their midst.

Otto does what many other men would do. He simply turns around and walks out of the building.

Grumpy old man

Otto is not a happy man. There are several reasons for that. First, he lost the love of his life just six months earlier. She had been paralyzed from the waist down in a bus accident while the two of them were on vacation. The accident claimed the life of their unborn son. Another illness completely incapacitated his best friend, both physically and mentally.

There were plenty of reasons for Otto to be angry and feeling alone. He lost his family and he was losing his friends. Add the loss of his job to the mix, and Otto lacked purpose for his life.

Like most men in similar situations, when their lives lack purpose, then other people’s business becomes their business.

Otto made it his mission to ensure that everyone followed the rules in his neighborhood. He even chastised a UPS driver for parking a delivery van on the street without a permit. He yelled at a teen for littering because he dared deliver shopper-like newspapers on everyone’s front lawn.

He was the first person to shovel his walk after a snowstorm, but dared not shovel beyond his property. He was unkind to people, gruff and insulting. He lived alone and the pain of isolation robbed him of all joy. Although is wife had died months earlier, Otto had left her things hanging in the hallway and her blanket draped over their bed. He could not let her go.

No reason to live

Without a purpose for his life, Otto tried to end his several times. First, he tried hanging, but the weight of his body pulled the noose from the ceiling. Then he tried carbon monoxide poisoning, but frantic banging on his garage door by a neighbor needing to take her husband to the hospital, thwarted that plan.

Next, Otto was ready to throw himself in front of an oncoming train. But another older man fainted on the train platform and fell onto the tracks. That prompted Otto to jump down to save the injured man. Otto was pulled to safety himself with seconds to spare. He became a reluctant hero in the process.

Finally, Otto tried to end his life with a shotgun. However, a knock on the door by one of his wife’s former students who needed a place to stay, startled him, which caused the shots to strike the ceiling instead.

To me, a man of faith, each of Otto’s failed attempts to end his life demonstrated God’s power to carry out his plans by overruling ours when necessary to accomplish his will.

Renewed purpose

After determining he couldn’t even kill himself, Otto had a change of heart. He discovered there really was a purpose to his life. Through all his ordeals, he realized he could help:

  • His wife’s former student get started on a better life.
  • His former best friend’s wife fight a medical kidnapping and forced eviction.
  • Help his neighbor learn to drive.
  • Be a grandfather to three neighbor children.
  • Care for a stray cat.

Although he never gave up enforcing rules and continued to “go on his rounds” every day, he served other people. Love returned to his heart and he brought clear value to their lives.

My key takeaways from this outstanding movie were:

  • A purpose is essential for happiness and fulfillment for people over 50.
  • Purpose must bring value to other people for it to have value to you.
  • Enforcing rules may seem like a purpose, but it doesn’t help anyone. Therefore, it’s unfulfilling. It is only when whatever we do with our lives works to touch someone else in a positive way, that we realize our lives have genuine purpose.
  • You must act on your dreams today because someday may never arrive. Life has a horrible way of disrupting our plans.
  • Regardless of how painful your life has been or is today, someone else in your circle of influence likely needs help too. In fact, they may need it even more than you do.
  • You don’t need money to impact the lives of others. Simply sharing your knowledge, skills, experience and attention can be a significant contribution.
  • Being around children has a magical way of making us feel and act younger than we are.

I plan to buy this movie as soon as it’s available on March 14, 2023. The movie is based on a 2012 book titled A Man Named Ove, which was written by Fredrick Bachman. I strongly encourage anyone over 50 to watch the film or read the book.

Here is the official trailer: