ORLANDO is yet another exercise in gender-bending, though less shocking than last year's infamous CRYING GAME. This fantasy/drama follows an immortal character through 400 years of English history, with a switch from male to female halfway through the trip. Though its photography is gorgeous, the film offers a foolish and futile premise: that there is no real distinction between the sexes except in reproductive function.
First the gender bending THE CRYING GAME, now ORLANDO, a light fantasy based on a novel by Virginia Woolf. As the film opens, Orlando is a young page whom Queen Elizabeth (played by actor Quentin Crisp) finds to her liking, and so, before dying, she swears an oath: if he refuses to grow old, she will grant him a huge estate. From here on, Orlando remains changeless, while those around him grow old. After a variety of life-changing experiences, he must decide whether or not to engage in a war during the mid-1700’s. He cannot take another’s life so in a fit of mind over matter, he decides to change his gender! Disrobing before a mirror, Orlando stares at his fully formed female figure, and states, “Same person…Just a different sex.” As a woman, Orlando must cope with the attitudes of men for another 150 years. Eventually, she rides a motorcycle through England’s motorways with a daughter on the back.
As eccentric as this may sound, ORLANDO nearly pulls it off. Photography is breathtaking, and performances are excellent. However, the film falters in the details of its dialogue and the static quality of the action. Even more unfortunate is the film’s central message: “Other than reproductive functions, differences between genders are largely artificial and cultural.” However, equality of value will never be brought about by futile efforts to eliminate all of the wondrous distinctions between men and women. Viva la differance!
(NA, NN, S, V) New Age nominalism supporting a gender switching premise with the implication that there is no essential difference between sexes except in reproductive function; brief full frontal female nudity (seen in mirror, motionless); sexual immorality implied; and, one shooting in a battle scene.