Orlando, is the freely adapted movie by Sally Potter from the book of the same name by Virginia Woolf


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Orlando, is the freely adapted movie by Sally Potter from the book of the same name by Virginia Woolf. It is described by Sally Potter as being : "[The novel Orlando] is more broadly about history, identity, reading, writing and remembering. Although Woolf works in a lot of literary jokes, we are not making a film about literature.” This thus meant that a straightforward adaptation was out of the question, instead a post modernistic twist is applied to the story and is exemplified in a few scenes: the opening scene being the first one, the significance of the acts and Orlando’s metamorphosis into a woman.

A panning camera shot, a technique commonly used to establish the scene and introduce a major character within their nature, greets the audience and stops at a lone figure sitting under an oak tree. The oak tree is of special significance, Orlando being in his raw and vulnerable state, a state that will only be evident within the start of the movie, where Orlando has everything, possessions, relationships, youth, and her ending, videotaped by her daughter, where she has lost everything but gained herself. The tree therefore marks her beginning and end, a link which is evident throughout the movie and links, inevitably, all his/her journey’s through time and sexes. This also introduces the very theme of appearance and reality. The progression of the time in the background as Orlando lies in sleep, is also symbolic of her very life, untouched by age or its effects. This subtle scene expresses the concept of uncertainty being the freedom from limitation, Orlando being almost uncertain of what to write, a reflection of his own life. This very concept of no boundaries and breaking the social norms is immediately distinguishable within many of the post modern works, and at the very core of the post modern pathos.

The chapter itself is referred to as “Death.” It is here that Orlando receives the immortality from Elizabeth I. This may be the actual death of Orlando’s world, everything he ever knew and wanted, the very essence of his life, or so he thinks. Or it could be the ominous sign that some impending notion of death is about to occur, or the feeling that death will be encountered forevermore, a side effect of immortality in which those who Orlando loves will die and wither away into memory, accentuated at first with the death of Elizabeth I and his father. This may also give rise to the concept of cynicism, that the overwhelming influence of everyone around Orlando, and those who rely and support him, ultimately control his life despite of the illusions that he may or may not see through. This kind of struggle, that of powerlessness, is also a common theme in many post modern pieces as it challenges the true nature of those who wish to influence us and questions their very motive and purpose.

The gaze towards the crowd, the intrusion, an acknowledgement of an audience whilst in context of the character, is perhaps the concept which bests illustrates the movies intentions to utilise a post modernistic perspective to retell this story. The gaze blurs and challenges the conventions of films, with which the characters are unaware and on a separate plane to the viewer. This is used to convey an alternate reality, one far divorced from the audience’s own, but with the gaze, the sense of post modernism blurs this reality to the viewer and entices the viewer to not only watch but interact with the characters, giving a more personal appeal.

It is also the foreword of the identity theme which will run throughout the movie, another concept frequently used in post modern pieces, used to question the very nature of identity and all it entails.

With each transition there is a connection to the previous scenes and “Acts.” The terrible blizzard in England is the first such link. It introduces to us a fragmented storyline, linked only through the use of the connections, which in this case is the fruit seller who falls into the Thames River. The concept of time and reality is again challenged through Orlando’s appearance at this point, whilst there is a considerable time lapse and as such those around Orlando have aged, he continues unaffected by the time period or age, one concept commonly used within post modern texts to accentuate the fragmentation of the story and to further blur and provokes the reader to think of what is happening on screen. This allows for the audience to be held, to become more than just a viewer accepting media, the viewer is being presented with a view point and must decide for themselves what to do about it. This is commonly used with other films such as Pulp Fiction and Adaptation, in each case a fragmentation of the plot is used.

The irony within the fruit seller’s death is that he too has reached a sort of immortality, one with which only Orlando is capable of, but with the turn of events, he has been immortalized, albeit be through death. The irony portrays the other hand of Orlando, a juxtapositioning, with Orlando being immortal but living, a further addition to the blurring of lines within space and time, as well as identity and the social criticisms utilised by Sally Potter.

The juxtapostioning of the act, “Love”, with the harshest winter being experienced it is a almost ironic that the act is referred to as love, the seemingly cold, desolate and deadly weather set as the background to an emotion which is associated with burning emotion and raw and unruly attitudes and action.
“Same person – no difference at all. Just a different sex.” A line which best describes the metamorphosis of Orlando form a man into a woman, a social commentary by Sally Potter that only during 18th Century is it possible for women to have a voice, an identitiy and as such Orlando was always designed to be a woman, but due to social constraints, also illustrated by the strict dress rules imposed upon women at this time, Orlando could not have materialized.
This very metamorphosis is an extremely post modernistic idea, where the very concept of ones physical appearance counts for nothing but appearance. This ideal is one which challenges the popular ideal that we are what we look like and that by changing physically changes us internally. This is summaringly dismissed in Orlando with the ideal of “ we are not what we look like.” This also illustrates a gender bending twist which is unseen outside of the post modernist genre, due mainly to the freeform view of space and reality within post modernism, a concept which allows for this very event to take place seamlessly into the story.

The story though, does not change much, as illustrated through this quote by Sally Potter:

”What interests me is how the book explores the way the English place themselves in the world in relation to their past. There is an addiction in English culture to mythologies of the past, which is not the same thing as having a sense of history. And many of these mythologies are rooted in the reign of Elizabeth I, which provides the origin for a particular understanding of national identity. It is a familiar accusation that the English are unable to let go of the past. In the film, Orlando gradually achieves this: she loses everything, but gains herself in the process."

Ultimately, Orlando is a post modern film accentuated by the aforementioned elements being present within the movie at least once. This genre has given way to a vast array of possibilities and a straight adaptation has become almost obsolete in the current situation and that a smart and freely adapted film or story has the ability to mould the very story and genus of the original but at the same time adapt the newer version for the intended audience, with limitless possibilities as such restrictions are not encountered. This perhaps is best seen through the differences between the ending within the book and the ending within the movie. In the book, Orlando marries Shelmerdine, has a son, and gets her estate back. In the final scene, Orlando cries out Shelmerdine’s name and he returns heroically in an aeroplane, drawn by her pearls burning "like a phosphorescent flare in the darkness". In the film, Orlando does not marry Shelmerdine, loses the estate, has a daughter, by whom is not clear , and ends the movie back at the oak tree with her small daughter videotaping her and, in the sky above, an androgynous angel singing "I am coming . . . at last I am free." This very manipulation is illustrative of the freedom allowed within the genre and how it can be “fixed” to fit the current adaptation.

Whilst it is a free form adaptation the underlying story remains true, as seen through this quote : “the sex-gendered duality that has been reinforced by convention, inheritance and tradition, and amounts to a resilient, but certainly flawed gendered ideology” (mETAphor). Both women used this very notion to portray their stories and ideals, yet with the power of post modernism, Sally Potter has been able to adapt and introduce the story to a completely new audience.


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