film recommendation: otto: or up with dead people

Let’s do something fun.

Jey Crisfar

I haven’t done a film recommendation in awhile, so I’m going to talk about one of my very favorites, Otto: or Up With Dead People.

You may notice that I have a particular interest in zombie flicks. I talked before about the zombie metaphor, which I find fascinating; that’s what drew me to Otto, but there are many more aspects to this strange little story. The unique mix of humor and melancholy, of live action and animation, and the way director Bruce LaBruce plays with storytelling by the use of color and sound, of silent film and art film form, makes Otto multidimensional in a way that sounds like a messy amalgam of competing methods when described, but in fact works as a whole to tell Otto’s tale.

Otto is a young man zombified by love – loss of love. If he’s acting a part, he’s taken to it full on, with his dead expression, his stumbling walk, his sustenance on road kill, raw chicken and live cats. He doesn’t seem to sleep, and his encounters with others are limited by indifference to every form of interaction, from kindnesses and sexual encounters to displays of repulsion. The thing is, it’s obvious that Otto feels deeply, even in his suspended state. Otto may appear dead to the world, but he elicits great compassion from those who are drawn into his plight.

Whether his condition is real or a very outward reaction to his inner turmoil is something to play with when contemplating this film. Frankly, I don’t try to pick apart Otto’s state of being; the real story is made up of the reasons for finding himself in that undead state, and the ways he influences, and is influenced by, the reactions of the people surrounding him. Some shun him, laugh at him and avoid him; but avant garde “documentary” film maker Medea Yarn is fascinated with him, and takes him in as a pet project, recruiting another zombie actor to care for him while she works her own odd brand of cinematic magic.

The ending is visceral. I was left amazed and hopeful, and crying my eyes out over the finalities and the rebirth that may be on the horizon for Otto as he continues his journey. I wanted to cuddle up this undead corpse of a boy and tell him everything is okay, because zombie or not, Otto is a remarkable being.

…Oh, and uh, it’s pretty fucking sexy, in a zombirific kind of way.

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