After hearing of my love for Tilda Swinton, and my particular fondness for her androgynous turn as the Angel Gabriel in Constantine, my friends S. and T. highly recommended her earlier take on androgyny, Orlando. Excited to see Swinton in a leading role, I quickly moved it to the top of my Netflix queue and when it came I waited only a couple of days before sitting down to watch it.
And I pretty much hated it.
Based on a Virginia Woolf novel, Orlando is the story of a young nobleman, Orlando (Swinton), ordered to stay young by a fairly creepy and pedophilic Queen Elizabeth the First. Somehow, he magically does so. How is not explained. And he proceeds to live through nearly five centuries, changing scenery, clothing styles, and sex.
Yes, changing sex. One morning in Turkey, Orlando wakes up a girl. This doesn't seem to bother him, and again, how it happened is completely unexplained. Being female proposes more of a problem for him than being immortal, however, as his family property is threatened, being as a woman couldn't legally own property in England at the time. Apparently a 250-year-old man could, though.
To further confuse things, Orlando (now female) has sex in 1850 or so, is pregnant during what seems to be WWI scene, and has a small child in what looks to be the present. So it isn't just Orlando's shape shifting and non-aging that causes confusion, it's the movement of time in general.
Perhaps reading Woolf's book before seeing the film would help it to make a bit more sense. Even if it had made sense, or if there had been some explanation for the way events progressed, though, I'm not sure I would have thought much of the film. It was beautifully filmed, and Swinton was great as always, but there just didn't seem to be much story to it. The things that could be explored in a story about the same person straddling two sexes and five centuries are endless, but Orlando didn't seem to really want to get into any of them. So it was not only a confusing film, it was a disappointing one, as it could have been so much more.