“Orlando” is the mildly depressing story through which cultural androgyny and rigid gender roles throughout history are explored. During the movie it becomes quite clear that Orlando, the main character, does not quite fit in anywhere within society’s rigid gender roles. Real men fought battles, wrote poetry, and had intellectual discussions together. Having any emotions, as a man was not acceptable just as you were not allowed to be a woman and have any intellectual discussions, or physical strength.
Right from the start Orlando does not fit into these stereotypes of this time period and shows an equal amount of male and female traits regardless of his/her biological gender. Early in the movie, we discover that Orlando considers him/herself neither male nor female from the very start. The very first shot we get of Orlando he is sitting by an oak while the narrator talks about how he was born into an aristocratic family and would not have to worry about much in his life.
He paces around the frame uncomfortably and finally takes a seat near the oak tree. The camera pans to a close up of his face and the an says “He” and at this point Orlando quickly corrects the narrator and says “That is I”. Within the first scene of the movie we quickly see how uncomfortable Orlando is with the traditional gender roles of society. He immediately negates being called “he” and instead picks a gender-neutral pronoun “I”. The viewer can tell right away that Orlando does not consider himself a man at all.
Orlando does not settle for fortune and status but rather will only settle for love. In the third scene Orlando is shown at a dance with his fiance. During this scene Orlando spends a majority of his time leering at another woman. We later find out that this woman’s name is Sasha. Orlando’s fiance quickly takes notice to him staring at Sasha and walks out of the party to leave him alone. At this point the viewer gets a short monologue from Orlando “We’d never have worked, a man must follow his heart”. This shows another one of Orlando’s feminine traits.
During this time period, a man’s status, power, and possessions were far more important than his heart. But to Orlando, this was not the case at all. He is with his fiance, not for love, but for status. Sasha on the other hand was someone that Orlando was physically attracted to. Another time that Orlando shows his emotions is during the battle scene. An enemy had just been shot and was dying. Orlando notices him when he walks by and crouches down beside him. The other men insist that he leave him behind because he is “not a man, but an enemy”.
Unlike the other men at battle, Orlando has too much empathy to do this without feeling tremendous guilt. Sympathy is undoubtedly considered a female trait. As he walks away from the battle, the sounds of babies crying are all that the viewer hears. This sound is most commonly associated with mothers. To Woolf and Potter the desire for love and companionship transcends gender roles. The desire to “own” a woman is seen as male as well as the ability to kill without remorse. Orlando then enters a seven day sleep, and when he wakes up he is a woman.
When Orlando is a woman, at first, he still tries to do all the things he would have done if he were a man. He talks to three poets and listens to them talk very negatively about women. The camera angles in this scene show how isolated Orlando is from the rest of society. The camera pans over the men as they are talking, and shows only the back of Orlando’s head which shows not only her insignificance to them, but the clear isolation from the male gender role that she has always felt, even as a man.
When she confronts them about some of their harsh ideas about women and gender roles, she is essentially laughed at and asked to leave. It then becomes evident how differently women’s ideas are viewed than men’s. The viewer is able to feel how intimidated women are by men by the camera angles in this scene. Orlando’s character, even as a man, was never intimidating. One of the final scenes of the movie shows Orlando laying on the ground and Shelmerdine rides up to her with a horse, but instead of helping her he falls to the ground and twists his ankle.
Orlando then has one of the few moments in the movie when she does something masculine. She asks for his hand in marriage and then puts him on a horse and whisks him away across the field. She is depicted on the front of the horse, riding it, while Shelmerdine is on the back, clutching to Orlando, and from this point on, Orlando finally seems happy. Once Orlando was in a relationship with Shelmerdine, where man, or woman, Orlando could do whatever she pleased.
It was a far different relationship then she has with anyone else, they met in a nontraditional way, and even their sex was not the stereotypical dominant male, submissive female. As a male, Orlando had many feminine traits, but as a female, Orlando still did things as though she was a man, such as rescuing Shelmerdine, and having a meeting with poets. Through Orlando, who is neither a stereotypical man, nor women, but rather has traits of both, the viewer learns just how difficult it would be during this time period to feel like you have to fit into these very rigid gender roles.