“If things were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth finding.”
I know many of you would be nervous at first of attending a movie like Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close. 9/11 films aren’t exactly crowd-winners. Ever since United 93 and even up to now, it still isn’t. It’s still a tense topic to this day and doesn’t make for good subject matter for people to see a movie about. Nevertheless Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is a good film of its own, if imperfect.
Oskar Schell is a young boy who’s a smart but fearful and eccentric brainiac often mistaken for having Asperger’s. However he’s dealing with an inner pain. His father Thomas died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, a day Oskar refers to as ‘the worst day’. His father was a jeweller who spent a lot of time with Oskar nurturing his creative and eccentric quest for knowledge. He would create puzzles, help him develop his own business cards (which lists him as inventor, Francophile and pacifist), have oxymoron challenges while practising karate, and even have scavenger hunts. You could tell Oskar is still very much an intellectual now. He keeps his collection of butterflies. He has his collection of facts and figures. He’s even intellectual in his lewd talk: “Succotash my Balzac, dipshiitake!” Yeah, real charming.
However his father’s death still upsets him. He died in the first tower and his body was never found. His mother held a fake funeral with an empty coffin in hopes that it would help them both heal. But Oskar is still hurting and lonely to the point he has distanced himself from his mother and even hurts himself physically. He still has the answering machine of the last six messages his father left before he was killed and replays all but the sixth and last one often, something he has hidden from his mother and replaced with a new answering machine on ‘the worst day’. The only person he talks to regularly is his grandmother who lives in an apartment next door..He feels that the missing ‘puzzle piece’ from the last scavenger hunt he had with his father could keep him from losing the spirit of his father altogether. The quest is to find out what to search for and find it.
One year later while Oskar goes through his father’s clothes and olf belongings, he accidentally breaks a vase. In it is a key inside a small envelope with the name black. Oskar believes this key may be the clue to the last scavenger hunt. He looks in the phone book for all the people in New York named Black: over 400 in total. He vows to search every Saturday for the person with the last name Black who knew his father and refuses to quit until its done. He won’t take any public transit, has a camera to keep a scrapbook of all the Blacks he sees, and he walks shaking his tambourine to keep his sanity while dealing with the world.
The first Black he sees is Abby Black, a woman just recently divorced form her husband. She says he doesn’t know his father. He visits other people named Black who don’t know his father but reach out to him: one hugs, one offers her prayer group to pray over him, another is a cross dresser, another gives him a ride upon her horse. One day, Oskar goes to visit his grandmother but meets the man his grandmother refers to as ‘the renter’.’The renter’ doesn’t talk because of witnessing a bombing during his childhood. The two become friends in the search and he learns from the man when to intervene and how to face his fears. Oskar stars to sens that the man is in fact his grandfather. Oskar even plays the messages from ‘the worst day’ for the stranger but he cannot bear to hear and demands it to stop before hearing the sixth and last message. The renter than moves out and begs Oskar not to search anymore.
When all seemed lost, Oskar notes a phone number on the newspaper clipping his father left a hint. It returns him to Abby Black. It turns out her ex-husband, whom she was divorcing the first time she met Oskar, may know about the key. He does meet with Mr. Black and learns about the key only to learn it’s not for Oskar at all. Disappointed and disheartened, Oskar destroys everything from his search until he learns that his mother was secretly helping him all along and even contacted all the Blacks even before Oskar had visited. Oskar compiles a scrapbook of his search and is able to find the last link of the scavenger hunt in the most overlooked of places. His fears had been conquered.
One strength of the movie is that it uses a creative puzzle and the Oskar’s intellectual way of thinking to help Oskar through the healing process and conquering the simplest of his fears. The scavenger hunt becomes like the journey to healing and along the way the healing comes in the moment he least expects it. The scavenger hunt is also that connection where Oskar searches for that connection that keeps him from being completely lost form his father. He finds it and learns that his bond with his father is still alive and something that ‘the worst day’ can never take away. Another thing Oskar receives is the love and care from people he never met before. It was all the people with the surname Black he encountered that shares some amount of care for him from the start of his journey to the end. It was also where his relationship with his mother heals. It was her own help with Oskar’s mission that showed the bond between the two never died. It also helped her heal too.
One glitch with the movie is that it doesn’t make the best of efforts of being watchable. Yes, the movie has the theme of healing but many times it focuses on the pain Oskar and his mother are going through. Especially the scenes where Oskar is shown with self-inflicted scabs. There were many times I was sitting there feeling that there would be many movie audients turned off this movie. People who have lost loved ones in 9/11 may themselves find the movie uncomfortable to watch too. Another glitch is that many feel this is a flawed look at autism. There’s no mention of autism in the movie but it has been sensed by many critics.
Tom Hanks did a good job of character acting as Thomas Schell, the intellectual father who always taught in character. Sandra Bullock was also very good as the grieving wife and mother. Max von Sydow was the biggest standout amongst the supporting actors playing the mute renter. Interesting how silence can make a role more that dialogue in a lot of cases. Without a doubt, the movie belonged to young Thomas Horn. This is his first ever acting role and he shines as the boy who’s both brilliant, puzzled, grieving, driven and eccentric. He doesn’t play a sugar-coated child character but one who’s very three-dimensional. Stephen Daldry is one lucky director. Ever since his first feature Billy Elliot, each of his four feature films have earned him either a Best Director Oscar nomination and/or receive Best Picture nomination. This is his fourth feature but the first one where he wasn’t nominated for Best Director. Nevertheless he does another excellent job in directing. Eric Roth does and excellent, if not glitchy, scriptwriting effort that makes this story as much our puzzle as it is Oskar’s puzzle. The score from Alexandre Desplat also fit the movie well.
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is a good adaptation of a 9/11 novel but it’s not the best at being a watchable 9/11 movie which has always been a difficult task. The effort to create a mostly watchable 9/11 movie continues.
And there you have it. I have now finished reviewing all the Best Picture nominees of 2011. My Oscar predictions are coming Friday.