“I’ve got things I need to do”

I recently went to see the film ‘A man called Otto’ starring Tom Hanks, a remake of a 2015 Swedish film based on the 2012 bestseller “A Man Called Ove” by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman. A powerful tale about a neighbourhood and a man who has known joy but because of his loss and life story has retreated into routine, isolation, and a degree of grumpiness which he fully admits to unashamedly.

I don’t mind admitting that I know how to cry during a film but in this one I was blubbing the whole way through as the lives of these seemingly ordinary people are explored and the extraordinary is birthed before our very eyes. Otto finds himself in a place where he finds safety in his daily routines and his painful attention to rules both written and unsaid, and he seems unreachable when some new neighbours arrive. He tries his hardest not to get involved and repeatedly says “I’ve got things I need to do”.

But the extraordinary power of human connection and life breaks through gradually and nudges a new course for Otto as his new circumstances and other people’s need of him nudge him into gaining a new perspective on life and living it more fully once again. Otto discovers that there is more than one way to be resilient. To quote the original novel “Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for the living.” Late on in the film one of the characters says to Otto “you’re not very good at dying are you” and Otto’s stubbornness finds a wonderful new cause as he speaks and acts against injustice in its main disguises.

There are several subplots involving disability, bereavement, gender, corporate greed, housing, the environment, to name a few and this is a reminder of the diversity of situations that surround this man, and also us in the stuff of everyday life in 2023.

I find myself considering the events and situations in my own life that have brought sadness and how they have affected me and become part of who I am. Otto reminds me that some of these are unexpected and inexplicable, and some involve a degree of hindsight about how I could have been a better person at times. I also find myself thinking about those moments of connection and being needed and using my gifts which have been nudged me forwards in my life, Christian faith, and discipleship.  

The strapline of the original Swedish film was ‘Misery hates company’ and I find myself thinking about the church and how we really do find it difficult to cope with loss and navigating the season we find ourselves in. We may feel that it is safer to inhabit the past rather than work out how to move forward but it might just be that to open our eyes and our ears to our neighbourhood and begin, in small steps, to connect with those around us will be a real journey of rediscovery and repurposing for us as people and Christian communities. And here is the thing, we are not very good at dying, God has always more for us to do in new and powerful ways – If we will let it happen. We, like Otto, have got things we need to do!

Jesus said “The thief does not come, except to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10.10 Modern English Version)

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