Kicking off my maiden voyage as a movies blogger, I give you the 1992 flick Orlando. I have to admit that I first picked up the box at the video store because it had a suggestive photo on the cover. The cover photo is of a woman (Tilda Swinton, aka the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia) I first took to be Cate Blanchett giving a deadpan stare at the camera while in bed with one Billy Zane. And when I read the tagline (“film based on the gender-bending novel by Virginia Wolf”), I knew that I just had to have it.
The story is about a 1600-era English lord (the eponymous character) inexplicably given the gift of immortality by an English queen. Then about 200 years later, he wakes up–again inexplicably–as a she. The second half of the film is about Orlando dealing with the legal and social difficulties of being a 200-year-old she-male. Never in the film does the character question how this is possible or even what it all means. If this film can be characterized by anything it would be the lack of self-awareness and the lack of explanation. Really, you’d think if you had 400 years to leave, the majority of which occurred before the invention of television, you’d have some time to question your magical powers.
If anything, the theme of this book is the battle of the sexes over time. And the lesson dear Ms. Woolf– through the lens of writer and director Sally Potter–seems to be imparting is best shown in the scene when Orlando wakes up to find his male parts mysteriously traded in for boobies. He looks in the mirror (full-frontal nudity!) and says to him/herself, “It’s exactly the same. I’m still me, just a different sex.” (Quote to the best of my memory.) It’s funny because I’ve always felt that way about gender differences–that men and women are fundamentally the same. So I feel it’s kinda a waste to put so much effort out just to prove something I’ve always known. However, considering that Ms. Woolf lived from 1882-1941 (well well before the feminist movement), I see that she was making an important statement for her time. And I thank all the women who came before me, giving me the freedom to not burn my bras.
All in all, Orlando was an enjoyable film to watch. It does come to some sort of satisfying conclusion. And, though I was left with a strange empty feeling when the credits rolled, I did have the gratifying sensation of having just watched something that could be categorized as vaguely intellectual.