By Jonathan Wojcik


Today's review may prove to be one of the shorter and simpler ones in the feature; in fact, when I set out to do this, I was expecting to write entries less than half as lengthy as I have been, and setting the bar so high has taken a real toll on anything else I meant to write this month. Whoops!

2000's Little Otik or Otesanek, sometimes translated as GREEDY GUTS, is a film by famous Czech stop-motion animator and surrealist, Jan Svankmajer, and it's actually a modern retelling of an old folk tale!

Bozena Horakova (Veronika Zilkova) is a young mother married to businessman Karel Horak (Jan Harti), both of whom would have wanted to raise children together but are unable due to some undisclosed medical condition. One day on vacation, Karel digs up a tree stump that looks sort of humanoid, and jokingly presents it to his wife as a makeshift baby doll.

Bozena responds to this with SLIGHTLY more enthusiasm than Karel might have wanted when she immediately cradles, cuddles and speaks to the hunk of wood. It's basically love at first sight, and she's "changing its diaper," even powdering it, within minutes.

Naming it Otik, Bozena continues to treat the stump as an actual child, and only worries that her neighbors might find it suspicious for her to show up with a "baby" so suddenly. She sews a series of nine pillows to wear under blouse, one for every month, to fake a pregnancy until she can reveal her beautiful new son to the world.

She's not completely oblivious to the reality, either, as she fully acknowledges that their son is made of wood; even that he needs to be varnished and his extra twigs, roots and appendages need to be trimmed, though you may note that this implies the stump is still growing. One night, a heavily drunken Karel comes home to see his wife actually breastfeeding the stump, and he's obviously not sure if he's simply had one too many or the thing's knothole really is visibly, audibly suckling. By this point, however, he's long accepted his weird new life through the powerful combination of alcoholism and emotional detachment, hardly phased by the time we see Otik actually moving.

Brought to life by Svankmajer's legendary animation skills, images and gifs of Otik have virally circulated the internet ever since the movie's debut, and perhaps you've already seen the flailing mandrake-like creature in memes stripped of context.

Though the gnarled homunculus is constantly wailing - and his mother even takes him out on the town in a baby carriage, heavily bundled up - only one person ever suspects that anything is "off" about the new parents, their neighbor's little girl Alzbetka (Kristina Adamcova) who snoops enough to figure out the truth fairly quickly. Reminded of Otesanek from her storybooks, she's more fascinated than frightened and keeps the secret to herself.

By the time he's moving and crying, Otik is also eating. Eating a LOT. He gets so ravenous at one point that he begins to eat his mother's hair, showing off that he's developed humanlike teeth in his knothole. Mom begins feeding him everything she can find, and discovers his appetite for meat when she comes home to a pile of bloody bones that used to be a family pet. She begins to cook him steaks, chicks, and even sheep's heads as he keeps growing larger, but can't stop him from eventually eating a postman and later a social worker.

Snapped out of his complacency, Karel drags the now much larger Otik to the basement of their apartment complex and ties him in place, intending to let him starve to death, but Alzbetka sees everything and continues to visit with the monster, keeping it fed with whatever she can find. When she's unable to meet its demand, she resolves to find it a real meal, and delightfully manages to feed Otik a creepy old man who's always leering at her anyway.

Karel, sadly, is also devoured when he returns to the basement with a chainsaw...but his very last words are to finally call the now huge creature his "son." His wife comes looking for him soon after, but even she gets wrapped up in tree roots and swallowed whole.

The ending is perhaps deliberately anticlimactic; though Otik is a monster that has now killed and eaten five people, he meets his end when he ravages the carefully tended cabbage garden of Mrs. Spravcova, another neighbor and a real no-nonsense old lady. She takes an axe down to the basement, and we don't see what happens, but Alzbetka tearfully reads the ending to the fairy tale in which Otesanek is chopped apart and everyone he's eaten supposedly comes tumbling back out. We do not know if this means that anybody came back out of "Otik" alive or in one piece. Probably not!


Little Otik is, like I said, a simple tale. Two people adopt a piece of wood, treat it like a baby, it becomes a baby, and it eats them. There's plenty you could read into it about the nature of society and parenthood, but it comes across mostly as a vehicle for Svankmajer to have his fun with a strange fable and stranger visuals. Otik is truly the star attraction, even moreso than the story or script, and a much more monstrous creature just a vaguely baby-shaped tree root; his knothole can reveal either a toothy maw or a glistening eyeball, he grows enough tentacular roots and vines that he's likely lost all resemblance to a humanoid by the final scenes, and of course grows large enough that he can eat entire, grown adults in just a few bites.

Was Otik always something special, even before he was dug up? Something like a mandrake or a dryad? Did the wood come to be occupied by some kind of ethereal entity following Bozena's desire for a child? Or did its adoptive mother simply project enough emotion onto an inanimate object that it developed a mind of its own and came to life? It especially fascinates me that a tree stump treated like a baby would become an enormous, ravenous monster, that it starts out behaving so much like a human infant but isn't something that can ever develop the way a human is supposed to: whatever it really is, all it got down about us is that we grow and we eat.