" The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as the Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient. And as the philosophy of the orient expresses it, life is not important. "
— General William Westmoreland, Hearts and Minds

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Our ideas of gender are usually black and white – you’re either a boy or a girl. But there are a lot of shades of gray in-between, and for some people, talk of blacks and whites, boys and girls, is very confusing.


Mikaela and Orlando interview each other
Mikaela and Orlando interview each other

Mikaela and Orlando are introduced to each other after the film crew sets up. They commence to interview each other about their experiences with sex-change operations.

They were both born boys in a very traditional culture – both are Swedish, and they grew up half a century ago. They both had ambivalent feelings about gender, and neither had any acceptable outlet. They both decided that a sex-change operation was the key to happiness. I got the impression that if they had grown up in more liberal times, they might have called themselves gay and not opted for surgery.

“What have I done?”

They both regretted having gone under the knife. Mikaela’s case seems particularly sad. He remembers having doubts on the day of the surgery. He blames the doctor for not asking him whether he was 100% positive he wanted to go through with it.

… and here is where the decision to have Orlando and Mikaela interview each other shows itself as a brilliant tactic for the documentary. Orlando doesn’t let Mikaela get away with blaming the doctor. Does he really think he had no choice? Orlando isn’t mean about it, he just demands honesty in front of the cameras, in a way that an outside might be too embarrassed to ask. Mikaela makes the point that a good doctor would have asked at the last minute, and at any sign of doubt, would have stopped the procedure. Mikaela says it’s “50/50” whether he would have actually admitted to any doubt because things had already gone so far.

Orlando has an even more amazing story to share, involving a marriage of 8 years to a man she was very much in love with.

Let’s Talk

For a brief 60 minutes, Orlando and Mikaela talk about gender in ways that most of us never even think about. There are cutaway interviews with the subjects one-on-one with the camera. Another scene has them showing each other slides from their time as women (Orlando is a man again; Mikaela was still awaiting reconstructive surgery at the time of the interviews).

They flatter each other, they are frank with each other, they demand honesty from each other, and they get to the heart of gender issues as only people who have spent their lives agonizing about it can. And yet for all that, they seem very different from each other. Mikaela says she got more respect as a man. Orlando says he felt less hostility from people as a woman.

Production Values

My first reaction was to say that Regretters is a good movie in spite of low production values, but on reflection I don’t think that’s fair. I think the production values are quite good. Granted, the footage is all talking-heads interviews. But the footage is just about perfect. There is a full spectrum of colors from light to dark. None of the whites wash out as happens in lower-quality video.

The subjects themselves add to the film’s visual appeal. Orlando wears a striking red outfit that is deliberately ambiguous. He says he wants you to look at him and not know whether he’s a man or a woman. Mikaela dresses like a man. The brown wig and Roy Orbison glasses look just a little off, but they are strong and bold.

There are two “settings” for our talking heads; one against a solid black field as they talk to each other; the other against a nondescript portrait backdrop as they are interviewed individually. The film begins and ends with an acknowledgement of the studio space — we see cables and lights, scrims and microphones, as if to say “we know this is a movie, so let’s get that out of the way so we can focus on the subject at hand.” Yes, the look is sparse, but it’s very deliberate and really well controlled, no “in spite of” necessary.