‘A Man Called Otto’ Vs ‘A Man Called Ove’ – What Are The Major Differences In The Book And Film? 

Written by Fredrik Backman, “A Man Called Ove” is a heartfelt Swedish novel about a cantankerous man who has no will to live after the death of his wife. He’s then baffled by the new immigrant neighbor, Parvaneh, and her family, who bring new light to Ove’s otherwise sad life. Ove is distant from his neighbors and even has a nemesis among them called Rune. They used to be friends until they had their differences (which we will discuss later on in this article). The novel is an absolute masterpiece in being real and honest through humor and grief simultaneously. It explores themes like the importance of friendship, suicide, loss, and togetherness in a seamless manner, hitting the reader with powerful emotions throughout. In 2015, two years after the novel was released in English, a Swedish film adaptation was made. The film carries forward all the emotion of the novel precisely, making you wonder what is going on in this overbearing man’s head and then wanting to cuddle the big old man in the span of two hours.

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Of course, “A Man Called Otto” is based in America, whereas the original novel and film are from Sweden, giving a universal audience a nuanced cultural experience. While the American film does appeal to a wider audience, it somehow lacks the sincerity of the Swedish work. This does not in any way mean it’s a bad adaptation; it’s just not as good as the original. Keeping that in mind, it does a very good job of using a Latin-American background for the new neighbor rather than Iranian, because it adds more value to an American setting. Marisol and Parvaneh are both the life of the film or novel, keeping not only Ove or Otto on their toes but us as an audience as well. Marisol’s character is the most authentic recreation of the novel in the movie.

A major difference between the film and the book is the way we meet Ove or Otto. In the American film, Otto is on the hunt for some rope and has a huge argument with the sales manager because he is made to pay for 6 feet of rope instead of the 5 feet he has taken. Immediately we understand the irritable nature of Otto, but this also leads to the next scene, where we see Otto drilling the roof and setting up a noose for himself. This makes it very clear right from the start that Otto is trying to end his life. In the book, however, Ove is in an Apple store, looking at an iPad. The iPad is something very outside of Ove’s comfort zone. We learn that he hasn’t lived with the times and isn’t really happy with technological advancements. The i-pad is also significant in the book because, in the end, he gifts Parvaneh’s daughter an i-pad, going out of his way for his “granddaughter”-like figure. It is a full circle in the novel that is entirely eradicated in the film. Additionally, Backman doesn’t make it very obvious that Ove is trying to commit suicide; although he is piecing his plan together, we only truly realize it when he’s actually making his first attempt. Both the Swedish and American films follow the same path of showing us right from the start that Ove and Otto are unhappy. 

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Unfortunately, the bit that disappoints about “A Man Called Otto” is the lack of commitment to Otto’s grumpy nature. Originally, Ove was the way he was because of all the emotional damage he has faced in life. Losing his mother at a really young age, having a quiet but good father who he loses very dramatically on the train tracks, being bullied by his father’s colleagues. Worst of all was having his father’s home burned down to ash after he had redone it. Ove’s disinterest in life stems from all these factors, as much as it  does from the loss of Sonja. On the other hand, we don’t get to see anything about Otto’s family or life before Sonya at all. This makes him a little less grumpy, so the juxtaposition of his character growth is lost, but it is also not quite clear how Sonya balances him out. Otto is a socially well-adjusted man, unlike Ove, who has trouble coping with people. So he hesitates with Sonja in the beginning too. The novel beautifully phrases this as Ove seeing the world in black and white, but with Sonja being the only color he had in his life. Ove is a stickler for rules because of his father’s ways; he lives mostly by himself and is struggling with all of these traumas. For Otto, we can’t truly understand why he’s so obsessed with having things done exactly right, except for the fact that he’s an old man. It is true that this is a possibility as well, but it just isn’t as impactful.

In Sweden, Ove drives a Saab. His father is a Saab man, and he teaches Ove all he knows about cars with the Saab, so undoubtedly, Ove continues to drive Saabs all his life. Ove becomes friends with Rune because they both want to keep their community’s rules in check. They have many similarities, and their wives become best friends, but soon they drift apart because of Rune’s choice of cars. Rune drives a Volvo! Although it is a local brand, Ove is a Saab man, and Volvo is a big competitor. Finally, when Ove wants to bury the hatchet and befriend Rune again, Rune shows him his new BMW convertible! Ove is flabbergasted and immediately retracts his offer of friendship. Otto drives a Chevrolet, and although the same thing takes place between him and Reuben, the context is misdirected.

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According to the novel, we understand that Swedish people can be put in homes after reaching a certain age if they can’t take care of themselves. Since America doesn’t work that way, the movie smartly switches the story to Anita and Reuben’s son taking power of attorney for their house. The property developers are building new condos and high-rise buildings near the housing society Otto lives in, so the developers are trying to get houses there too. Otto uses the help of a “social media journalist” and camera to get the house back for Anita and Reuben, whereas Ove was unfortunate and had to do things the old-fashion way by getting a hold of an actual journalist back in 2015.

One character is removed from “A Man Called Otto.” Adrian, this young boy who was working on a bicycle for his girlfriend, was like a middleman who helped introduce a gay character named Mirsad to Ove. Adrian is also Sonja’s student. Mirsad gets thrown out of his home because his father would rather kill himself than raise a gay boy. For Otto, there is no middleman; he directly meets Malcolm, one of Sonya’s transgender students, who also eventually gets thrown out of his home.

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The biggest difference between the two films, apart from the flashbacks, is the soundtrack. While the score of “A Man Called Ove” brings a sense of urgency throughout, looming over our heads until we’re blown away by sadness, “A Man Called Otto” uses almost comical music and random pop songs that take away from the seriousness of the film. It also does this with some of its characters, who come out more like caricatures than real people, unlike the Swedish film. Overall, “A Man Called Otto” does a pretty good job of not majorly altering the source material, sticking to the most important parts, and keeping the emotional message of “no one can do anything on their own” intact.


Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

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