In his review of Tim Blake Nelson’s O, Patrick Finn criticizes the modern adaptation of Othello for its superficiality saying, “in this Othello, true anger comes from the steroids and cocaine that rich kids take to enhance performance,” and “malignity, in this sense, is no longer motiveless, but is instead the result of bad parenting” (85). The film departs from its source material by attempting to explain Hugo’s duplicity through a desperate, if childish, need for attention. As a result, the film loses the ambiguity and impact of Iago’s “motiveless malignity,” and this departure affects the overarching message of the film.
Iago gives many reasons for his duplicitous actions throughout Othello. In the opening scene he tells Roderigo that although three great men of the city told Othello to name Iago as his lieutenant, Othello instead chose Cassio, who Iago describes as a man “that never set a squadron in the field / Nor the division of a battle knows / More than a spinster – unless the bookish theoric, / Wherein the togaed consuls can propose / As masterly as he” (I.i 23-27). This jealousy derived from Othello passing up Iago in favor of Cassio is most similar to the reasons given for Hugo’s actions in O, but it is expanded in the film to include another character that overlooks Hugo: his father. Iago has no family other than his wife, yet Hugo is given a basketball coach for a father to reinforce that jealousy is the basis for Hugo’s actions. While Hugo’s father may be filling a role in the film equivalent to that of the Duke in the play, Iago and the Duke have no recognizable relationship. Nevertheless, Hugo derives a great deal of his motivation from Odin’s relationship with his father, and this is established in the first f…
… of its final chance to get a real motive out of Hugo.
In this way, the play retains the ambiguity in Iago’s motives in order to allow an interpretation that there may be no motive or any one of the motives that is expressed or implied through Iago’s words or actions. One theme of the play is that evil may be motiveless, and the work is Shakespeare’s attempt to explore the “mystery of evil will.” By losing this ambiguity, the film does not allow for motiveless malignity, only evil that is a result of bad parenting.
Criniti, Steve. “Othello: A Hawk among Birds.” Literature Film Quarterly 32.2 (2004): 115-121. Web. 6 Apr 2011.Finn, Patrick. “O.” Film & History 32.1 (2002): 84-85. Web. 4 Apr 2011.Shakespeare, William. Othello. New York: Bantam Books, 1988. Print.Stempel, Daniel. “The Silence of Iago.” PMLA 84.2 (1969): 252-263. Web. 6 Apr 2011.