It is undeniable that Othello is one of William Shakespeare’s more popular plays. Written in 1604, it has spanned a total of 12 movie adaptations (“Othello”), including the 2001 version directed by Tim Blake Nelson. Nelson’s O is heavily based on Shakespeare’s original but is set in a modern setting, with high school students playing the roles crafted by Shakespeare. Much like Othello, Nelson plays with racism in his modern take of the classic.
In Shakespeare’s original, we see character that is not of Caucasian descent – Othello’s race has been of much contest in many scholarly essays, but all of them seem to agree that Othello is indeed no Caucasian, based on references to a Moor and thick lips (SparkNotes LLC) – dominating a dominantly white society. Nelson translates this into his movie by placing the black Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) as the star of the basketball team in a white-dominated school.
Jealousy, which is also a main element in Shakespeare’s Othello, was also incorporated into Nelson’s take of the story. The primary way by which Iago brought Othello down was by letting him believe that his wife Desdemona was cheating with his appointee Michael Cassio. Nelson copies this certain subplot almost to the word as he crafted his Iago-counterpart Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett) to destroy Odin by deceiving him that his girlfriend Desi (Julia Stiles) is cheating with Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan).
Hugo also uses almost the same methods as Iago in deceiving Odin: Hugo convinces Michael to ask for Desi’s help in pleading with Odin to cancel his suspension and Hugo also uses a piece of clothing that belongs to Desi to convince Odin of the ‘alleged’ illicit affair. Very much a tragedy like Othello, Nelson’s film also ends with deaths similar to the original. Odin, who was successfully lured into believing Hugo’s lies, kills Desi much like the way Othello murders his wife – by strangling her to death.
But whereas in the original play Othello was purely driven by his jealousy and anger, Odin killed Desi in a moment of being drug-induced. Very much like the play, though, the movie also shows Desi begging Odin to spare her life. Another parallel thing about the movie and the play is the ending moments. In the play, Othello realizes that everything was but a ploy of Iago to destroy him. After a confrontation, though, Iago says, “Demand me nothing: what you know, you know: / From this time forth I never will speak word. ” Hugo does the same when Odin confronted him.
He replies with a line that rings like the original, “I did what I did, and that’s all you need to know. From here on out I say nothing. ” (Nelson, 2001) The main plot of the movie and the play are almost parallel but the setting is what accounts for the biggest difference. Since the 2001 movie involves high school students, Nelson had to incorporate elements that will make his version more appealing to its audience. Odin and Desi, although acting as if they are a married couple complete with a rubber band that serves as a wedding ring, could never have the sanctity and legality of Othello’s and Desdemona’s marriage.
Also, Hugo’s main reason for exacting revenge on Odin was really jealousy, as apparent in his parting line: “One of these days, everyone’s gonna pay attention to me. Because I’m gonna fly too. ” (Nelson, 2001) Shakespeare’s Iago, though, is the meanest of villains, going about his plot of revenge for no solid reason. His so-called reasons keep on changing from time to time and, more often than not, have no solid evidence. Nelson also had to induce elements of drug abuse and , instead of having Odin stab himself like Othello, Nelson hands him a gun.
Tim Blake Nelson’s O is admittedly based on Shakespeare’s well-loved classic Othello. Even with the use of a different setting and of different names for the characters, the 2001 film is still a recognizable copy of Othello. Yet with the use of a modern set-up, Nelson had to tweak some parts of the story slightly. And even as the two stories are similar, few elements still differ – making O and Othello both interesting stories that everyone will surely enjoy.