‘A Man Called Otto’ Ending, Explained: What Was The Reason For Otto’s Grumpiness? What Happens To Otto?


Based on the 2015 Swedish film “En man som heter Ove,” “A Man Called Otto” is the English adaptation of the same narrative that is centered around an elderly man, Otto Anderson, who lives in a suburban American community and is known to his neighbors as the grumpiest man alive. Although the comedy-drama film is not remarkable or brilliant, “A Man Called Otto” does have moments that are touching, and overall, it provides an enjoyable watching experience.

Spoilers Ahead

‘A Man Called Otto’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

Played by Tom Hanks, Otto Anderson is a man in his sixties who lives a life all by himself because he does not really like people, or at least those around him. The opening scene of the film shows Otto trying to buy a piece of rope and some hooks and nails, among other things, from a supermarket when the man is overcharged for no apparent reason. He is one to insist on what is right and wrong, and the store clerk just tells him that their computers cannot bill using the method that the man is using to calculate the cost. Otto is fed up with the clerk and the assistant manager as much as he is with everyone else, especially his neighbors in the suburban community where he lives. To him, everyone is stupid or mindless enough to put the wrong items in the wrong trash bins, block others’ garage doors without any concern, not follow any rules, not be thoughtful enough to close a gate, and so on. He is seen going to work at a steel company, but it happens to be only his last day at work following his decision to take a severance package. This decision, too, had been indirectly enforced upon him since his mostly younger coworkers did not want the bickering man to continue at the office.

The neighbors take Otto’s rude and grumpy behavior to be the man’s coping mechanism for his wife’s death some six months ago. But what they are unaware of is that the man is so bitter and fed-up in his mind that he has been contemplating suicide for some time now. One morning, Otto dresses up in a formal suit, drills a hook in the ceiling of one of the rooms in his house, and puts up a noose to hang himself. Just as he is about to start the horrid proceedings, though, the man sees a car struggling to park right opposite his house, and in a disgruntled mood, he walks out to give the driver an earful. The car belongs to Otto’s new neighbors, Tommy and Marisol, and their young daughters, Abby and Luna. While it is quite literally this family that halts Otto’s suicide plan, it is also Marisol and her family who change Otto as a man over the next few years.

What Was The Reason For Otto’s Grumpiness?

Although most believe Otto’s grumpiness to be due to his wife’s passing, at least initially, there is a different and older reason for it. This is gradually revealed in “A Man Called Otto” through scenes from the past in which the deep and loving relationship between Otto and the love of his life, Sonya, is established. Otto was of a very different nature in his younger days, cheery and helpful to others, and it was through his desire to help that he met Sonya. One day at a railway station platform, he saw a woman drop her book and went out of his way to pick it up and return it to her. This woman turned out to be Sonya, and the two eventually started to date. A physical ailment had already made itself present in Otto by this time, as he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. For this condition, which essentially meant that his heart was thicker or bigger than the usual size, Otto had been rejected by the army and was jobless at the time. It was probably Sonya who encouraged him to study more, and right after graduating, the two got engaged and married.

Nothing seemed to be able to keep the couple apart, as their love was genuine and intense. As Otto’s professional career grew into a stable one, he and Sonya wanted to grow their family, too, and decided to have a baby. While around five months pregnant, Sonya asked for a vacation trip since they had not traveled much before in life and could not possibly do so in the next few years because of the baby. Otto agreed, and together they went to see Niagara Falls. But it was during their return that a terrible stroke of fate struck when their bus met with a deadly road accident.

Although both Otto and Sonya survived the accident, its effect on the woman was heartbreaking. Pregnant with a boy at the time, Sonya lost the baby in the accident and was also permanently paralyzed from her waist down. Otto started breaking down bit by bit right after this, blaming himself and the whole world for the accident. During the exact moment of the bus crash, Otto was in the restroom, and Sonya was sitting alone in the seat, and the man could never really forgive himself for having left her alone. Ever since this accident, Otto had gradually developed a rude and unfriendly nature towards everyone around him, as if he strongly believed that the whole world was against him and his beloved wife. At times his behavior made sense, too, for he started to speak out against clear discrimination against people with physical disabilities in the community.

Being the chairman of the homeowners’ association in the community, Otto wanted to make places more accessible for Sonya, and he had a terrible fight with a higher-up when this individual mentioned people with disabilities in an ostracizing light, leading to his being removed from the chairmanship. He had built a lower cooking station inside his house so that Sonya could get full use of it and continue her love for cooking, but Otto could not arrange for her in a similar manner in the outside world. His friendship with another homeowner in the community, Reuben, turned into animosity when Otto believed Reuben had helped in getting him removed from the chairmanship, and he started to see only the differences between them. The major difference between the two men happened to be their choice of cars—Otto was strictly always a supporter of Chevrolet, while Reuben always bought Ford and then, later on, Toyota cars. Ever since all this time, Otto had also developed a staunch animosity towards a local real estate company named Dye & Merica. 

It is true that Otto’s bitterness did have reasons behind it, but the extent to which he had pushed himself away from the world was also not a healthy practice. Throughout the duration of the film, Otto tries to commit suicide multiple times, first trying to hang himself, then wanting to jump in front of a train, trying to poison himself with carbon monoxide fumes from his car exhaust, and then even trying to shoot himself with a shotgun. Each of these times, he is interrupted in the act by something or other, either by some neighbor trying to ask for help or by sheer fate, like when the newly attached hook in the ceiling gives way and Otto falls down on the ground along with his noose. This and the overall development of the character give way to the fact that there is an inherent goodness in the man, one which he very consciously tries to keep away. Even though Otto wants to kill himself and reunite with his beloved Sonya, there is a sense that the world, or at least his neighbors, needs him for the help and assistance he can still provide to them.

How Does Otto Turn Into A Changed Man By The End?

Otto perhaps always needed a spark, a catalyst, or outside help to open up to people, and this chance comes through the character of his new neighbor Marisol. The pregnant woman is not typically like other usual neighbors; she doesn’t mind asking for help and also does not hesitate to reach out to one when she realizes they are in some trouble. Otto does find Marisol pushy and interfering during the initial days, but he also starts to soften up to her with time and becomes more accepting and grateful for her presence. Marisol also has a habit of making food for Otto, and initially, it is the food that wins the man over. He then becomes close with the two children, Abby and Luna, as well and becomes their “abuelo Otto,” or grandfather. There is not much profundity to the change that comes over Otto, and at times it does feel like a stretch as if the character had only been waiting for someone to come into his life and magically change him. Nonetheless, there is also a very instinctive nature in Otto to help people around him, as is revealed in the scene where he thinks of committing suicide by jumping onto railway tracks. At that very moment, when an elderly man falls onto the tracks, Otto jumps in and saves him. But unlike the modern world around him, Otto does not do this for fame or recognition, and he even refuses to talk to a social media journalist when she wants to present him as a hero in her videos. However, it is this goodness that later comes back to help Otto or to help him achieve his goal of helping others.

The old friend-turned-enemy Reuben was now an old man, unable to speak or move after having suffered a stroke. His wife Anita was now helpless in her situation, especially after their son tried to sell off the parents’ house to the Dye & Merica company. The son had gone away to Japan some ten or so years ago and had not kept in touch with his parents ever since, but now wanted to earn profits by driving them away. At present, the son tries to send Reuben off to a nursing home and sell off the house, and this is where the Dye & Merica company came in and joined hands with him. Purposefully named to sound like it wants to bring death over America as we know it, the Dye & Merica real estate company engages in several malpractices, including the illegal access to personal medical data of individuals, in order to buy properties and grow their business. Based on this data theft, they reveal that Anita has been secretly suffering from Parkinson’s disease in recent years and also threaten Otto with his heart condition when the latter tries to help Anita and Reuben protect their home. Finally moved by the desire to help his old friends, Otto contacts the social media journalist he had earlier turned away and now brings to the public’s attention the devilish acts of the Dye & Merica real estate company.

There is also the character of Malcolm, who is helped by Otto. Malcolm was a trans man who was looked down upon by everyone at school as well as in his house due to his identity. It was only Sonya, who served as a teacher at the local school for many years before her eventual death from cancer, who had always supported Malcolm and treated him equally with the other students. Malcolm, therefore, remembers Sonya, and the goodness that she once shared with him now comes back when Malcolm intervenes when Otto is about to shoot himself dead. Otto gradually develops a warm relationship with the teenager, too, teaching him how to fix his bicycle and then a car, too, before eventually giving his own car to Malcolm as a gift in the end.

‘A Man Called Otto’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Otto In The End?

After his applaudable attempt at saving Reuben and Anita from the greedy real estate agents, Otto had mingled better with the neighbors in his community. His headstrong nature of always opposing them and keeping himself behind an emotional shield was now gone, and he was truly a different man now. Otto had helped not only humans around him but a stray cat too, which he adopted and kept in his house after it was sick and none of the neighbors could take it in. To Marisol and her family, he did become as close as a blood relative, and he is finally seen holding their new baby boy like he would have held his own grandson. Through this entire process, Otto successfully lets go of his past as well. He finally lets Sonya’s clothes be put away after having kept them in their original state for many months after her death. The baby cot that he had prepared for their son many years ago was also kept, and he now repaired and repainted the same cot to gift to Marisol for her son.

The aging man continued to be like family with Marisol for the next couple of years before, one morning, he was found to have passed away in his room. A note left behind for Marisol makes it clear that Otto had not taken his own life but had been anticipating his death for some time. The heart condition that he had lived with for all these years had now finally caught up and taken his life. He had prepared all the legal documents to have his house and car gifted to Marisol and Tommy after his passing. He left them with money as well and even created a youth crisis donation fund in Sonya’s name. But perhaps more importantly than any of this, Otto left his neighbors and community with a warm memory of himself. The man who was once considered a grumpy old man was now celebrated and grieved for like a hero of the neighborhood.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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