By Jonathan Wojcik
ENTRY 09: LITTLE OTIK
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! So I'll be trying to reel it in just a little, at least while I catch up, and put some of our most straightforward entries here in our second week.
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.