A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Orlando" is about a person who achieves in one lifetime what most of us can only dream of doing: viewing four centuries of experiences through the eyes of both sexes. Obviously it is a very long and unusual lifetime. Born as a man in the time of Elizabeth I, Orlando becomes a woman midway in the journey ("You see? Absolutely no difference!") and is still going strong as the film ends.
This is the kind of movie you want to talk about afterward.
Directed with sly grace and quiet elegance by Sally Potter, it is not about a story or a plot, but about a vision of human existence. What does it mean to be born as a woman, or a man? To be born at one time instead of another? To be born into wealth, or into poverty, or into the traditions of a particular nation? Most of us will never know. We are stuck with ourselves, and as long as we live, will always see through the same eyes and interpret with the same sensibility. Yes, we can learn and develop, but so much of what makes us ourselves is implanted at an early age, and won't budge.
"Orlando" is inspired by the novel by Virginia Woolf, herself a writer who tried to break free of sex and class restraints. Stanley Kauffmann writes in the New Republic that the novel was originally written for, and inspired by, Vita Sackville-West, said to be one of Woolf's lovers. It comes out of that pre-Beauvoir time in the earlier 20th century when society still regarded women as second-class citizens, not fit to vote, but when many women were energetically assaulting society's quaint notions as quickly as they could.