PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.



As O'Horten begins, it's clear that Horten will manage his retired life much the same as he has his working one, with consistent routines and a decided lack of improvisation.


Director: Bent Hamer
Cast: Bård Owe, Espen Skjønberg, Kari Lolland
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2007
US date: 2009-05-15 (Limited)
UK date: 2009-05-08 (General)

Odd Horten (Bård Owe) is a loner, a man of few words whose meticulous habits suit his work as a train engineer. O'Horten opens as his life changes. After 40 years of service, adhering to precise schedules and countless comings and goings, he has turned 67, the required retirement age in Norway. He plans to return to Oslo by plane after making his final run, a sort of quiet rebellion to commemorate the event.

It's clear enough that he will manage his retired life much the same as he has his working one, with consistent routines and a decided lack of improvisation. He will pay regular visits to his mother Vera (Kari Lolland) in her nursing home and will finally spend time on his boat. But then Horten is thrown into something of an existential crisis when the unthinkable happens. Following a party in his honor, thrown by his fellow engineers, he oversleeps and misses his last train. Horrified and ashamed, he stands forlorn on the platform as the train pulls out of the station without him. Worse, when he's discovered by railroad authorities, he panics and runs away.

The idea that a man who has defined himself by his habits would feel lost without them isn't exactly groundbreaking. But this business of missing the train, or more to the point, Horten's outsized response to it, complicates things a bit. Retiring is one thing; undermining your entire professional reputation is quite another. Horten had just been hailed at the retirement party for his unwavering reliability, an accolade that now seems like a mockery. His self-image as an engineer and his pride (however understated) are undone.

This personal upheaval then disrupts his future plans since, in a way, he is not the same man who made them. Horten has to decide how he is going to live from here on out. At first, he tries to continue on as if nothing had ever happened. He calls to check on his mother then visits her. It's not clear if this is the first time he has seemed like a stranger to her, but it's certainly the first time during one of his visits that he's been a stranger to himself, so her blank, unrecognizing gaze only reinforces her son's sense of alienation. On the other hand, the distance also brings a kind of freedom. He returns to his apartment and makes a call about selling his boat -- named Vera.

The film takes its time working out Horten's identity crisis visually. When he misplaces his ever-present pipe, it seems an inauspicious event, one we might assume has happened before, given his ample supply of back up pipes in his apartment. Yet, the loss is a turning point for Horten: suddenly, all his pipes are deficient. When he arrives at his regular shop to purchase a new one, he discovers the owner has died, which only reinforces Horten's anxiety. Though he still wears his engineer's uniform, he eventually pulls off the epaulets. When he loses his shoes at the gym, he emerges in a stolen pair of bright red high heels. As obvious as it sounds, his transformation is handled with charm and humor, and without the expected montagey makeover effect.

At last he meets Sissener (Espen Skjønberg), a man about his age, lying in the street. In an act of kindness, or maybe daring, he helps Sissener home, where they share a drink and stories. Sissner talks of being a diplomat and collector, a past that sounds exotic to Horten, who doesn't talk about trains but of Vera. She was a ski jumper in her youth and had always wanted him to ski jump as well, but, as he puts it, "I never dared. And now it's too late." This prompts Sissener to describe what he calls a "gift" for driving blindfolded.

It's a rather obvious metaphor for life, but Sissener means it literally, and convinces his new friend to ride with him: "It's a beautiful day for driving blind, Horten." Like many of the comic scenes in O'Horten, this one is both surreal and sad. Horten absorbs the lesson about living spontaneously, taking chances and reinventing himself. With most post-babyboomers working for one employer for less than five years, Horten's crisis may be a little obscure for some viewers. Still, his pluck is heartening, and so are his memories of his mother.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.