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Othello's Adaptation In O Movie

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This basketball film translates Shakespeare's tragedy Othello into the high school teen genre and gets its identity and impact from the fact that its plot, themes, and the motivations and actions of its characters are contemporary equivalents of the seventeenthcentury play. (1) The director Tim Blake Nelson and the writer Brad Kaaya have created precise parallels, while at the same time adding elements which fit the modern context of high school violence. O is best appreciated as an interlinear exercise, which involves going back and forth between the movie and Shakespeare to determine the similarities and differences. As Coursen has stated, "this film ... pursues ... Othello so closely ... [through] the parallels between what is happening on the screen and what happens in the play" (52).

Nelson was initially reluctant to direct another "teening down" of Shakespeare, but he realized that he could use his version of Shakespeare's tragedy to investigate the nature and causes of the school shootings which have afflicted our society in the past decade. (2) Nelson wanted a serious work for a "younger audience with very adult sensibilities" in which the emotions of envy and revenge would fuel his characters just as they did in Othello. In order to, effect this transfer from Shakespeare's age to the contemporary context, Nelson created a series of translations, i.e., recastings of the original text to suit the teen genre. As Durgnat and Combs

have stated, "The finding of social parallels, the creation of parallel universes, has been the greatest factor in taking Shakespeare out of the ivory tower, deacademizing ... and defrosting him as a writer for our times" (58-59). The analysis of the numerous parallels between O and Othello constitutes the focus of this article.

The working title for the film was at one time the same as Shakespeare's play, but it was changed to the initial letter, which has resulted in a widening series of onomastic, sports, mythological, literary, and philosophical associations. O is the shortened form of Othello, which has two "o"'s in it. (3) "O" also refers to the lead character and Othello parallel, Odin James, the star black basketball player who has been recruited by Palmetto Grove Academy, the prestigious prep school determined to win the state championship. Odin's status as the one black student in an all-white school is intended to parallel Othello's role as a Moorish general employed by the Christian city of Venice to lead its war against the Turks. Further, Odin James recalls another famous black athlete, Orenthal James Simpson, who throughout his trial for the murder of his white wife was compared to Othello. (4) Odin is also the name of the Norse god of war, wisdom, and art, and the fact that the movie hero has this name is an ironic indication of the power attributed to him because of his basketball prowess. In more specific basketball terms, "O" can refer to the basketball hoop through which the ball is thrown and to the ball itself, hence the term for the game "roundball." "O" can also refer to offense as opposed to "D" for defense. (5)

"O" has tragic overtones as well. The sound produced by the recitation of the letter is the universal exclamation of pain and sorrow, often appearing in literary and religious contexts. "O" is also a circle representing nothingness and death. As Tayler has pointed out, Shakespeare uses multiple forms of "o" throughout King Lear to indicate the essential tragic pain and nothingness experienced by the characters (32). Similarly, "O," the omega or the last letter of the Greek alphabet, can represent the nothingness that results at the end of the movie when Hugo's murderous plots are finalized and enacted. All of these negative meanings are visually encapsulated by the way the title is presented at the outset: an "O" moves toward us getting bigger and bigger, filling the otherwise empty screen with the fullness of the ominous white letter. Moreover, whenever we say or hear the title we are aurally reminded of the movie's tragic qualities.

The change in setting is also an appropriate translation from Venice and the Mediterranean island Cyprus to Charleston, South Carolina, which is a port city in a tidewater state and thus is also mounded by water. (6) In addition, South Carolina was the fast state to secede from the union, precipitating the opening shot of the Civil War on Fort Sumter, which is in Charleston. In this historical context, the surname of Roger Calhoun, a rich, white, bullied student who is the equivalent of Iago's dupe Roderigo, recalls John Calhoun (1782-1850), the senator from South Carolina who supported slavery and whose doctrine of states rights led to the secession of South Carolina. Thus, the choice of Charleston as the setting connects its historic racial tensions with Odin James' role as the token black at the white prep school who has an interracial relationship with Desi, the daughter of the school's dean.

The movie opens with a blurry shot of white pigeons in the dome of the school building and a voiceover by Hugo, coach Duke Goulding's son. Hugo sees himself as a white pigeon, but he wants to soar like a hawk, which is also the school's mascot, as Odin does on the court. Nelson has translated Iago's motivations for his evil behavior into a basketball and racial context. Iago feels great resentment, envy, and jealousy because he has not received the position as Othello's lieutenant which he believes he deserves more than Cassio, a Florentine arithmetician "That never set a squadron in the field" (1.1.22). (7) As a result, Iago undertakes a course of revenge against Othello and Cassio which results in turmoil and a series of deaths. Similarly, Hugo is envious of Odin's abilities and the attention and acclaim he receives because of his leaping and scoring prowess. Moreover, when Odin calls Mike Casio to the podium to share his MVP award, Hugo is incensed that he was not chosen for that honor. To undermine Odin, Hugo concocts a series of plots which result in the tragic deaths of Odin, Desi, Roger, and Emily.

At the heart of Hugo's malaise is his relationship with his intense father, who hardly seems to recognize his son as his son. It took about fifteen minutes of the movie to elapse and a quick, almost discarded, "Pop" from Hugo before I could recognize that Hugo and the coach were father and son. Hugo is displaced by Odin in his father's affection because Odin can play great basketball and that is all that Duke Goulding--and the school--seems to be interested in. The coach screams and throws things at his

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