How does the film Orlando reflect power structures?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The film Orlando by Sally Potter (based upon Virginia Woolf's novel) explores many themes including the meaning of gender identity and how gender has been defined historically. The notion of "power" in the film is addressed through various plot elements, and power is related to sexuality, marriage, wealth, property and social standing. When Orlando is male, he owns property and is in a position to control his own future. But despite being a charming and intelligent man who is socially respected, he is unable to find a woman who will stay with him. When he becomes female, Orlando lives as a wealthy lady who is expected to conform to many social rules. She is not respected in conversation while there are men present, and is expected to talk about inconsequential topics. She has an affair, but her lover leaves her. She owns a home, but loses it when her gender change is revealed (this echoes the long-time custom of property ownership only being granted to men in name, rather than women). She is also made vulnerable in pregnancy, underscoring the power of biology over the physical self.