When the Academy announced their choices this year, there were more than a few shocks (most of which will be covered at a later date…). The presence of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” a film that I had written off as another unnecessary attempt at a 9-11 movie, was noted by many as a questionable call.
I did not want to see this movie. I saw one trailer, realized it was a 9-11 movie and had no interest. Movies which rely heavily on recent events surrounded by such grief and loss don’t interest me. I’m all for catharsis, but I don’t see any in that.
Nonetheless, here we are at the beginning of our final countdown to the Oscars and here we have it, the first of our best picture nominee reviews. So, let us begin:
Experiences are very personal things. No two are alike. Even the exact same moment in time is a completely different experience for each and every one of us. In “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” Directed by Stephen Daldry and based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, we experience the world of Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn).
Oskar is a smart kid. He and his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), and his mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), live in New York City (and of course Hanks and Bullock are brilliant as usual). Oskar and his father do everything together, but their favorite game is “Reconnaissance Expedition,” in which Oskar has to follow a series of clues to find whatever lesson or treasure may be at the end.
After Thomas dies on 9-11 in the World Trade Center, Oskar finds a key which he believes his father left for him. Armed with his astounding intellect, an incredibly organized system, and his tambourine (it calms him), Oskar sets out on his final “Reconnaissance Expedition,” one which he hopes will lead him to one last message from his father.
Although it’s “inconclusive” Oskar appears to be a child with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition which means he is very intelligent, but lacking in social skills. His extreme logic is perhaps best illustrated by his firm grasp of oxymorons and the battles he and his father waged with these contradictory phrases.
As Oskar searches for the key’s lock, he gets overwhelmed sometimes, but they’re momentary setbacks. He doesn’t go and talk to strangers because it’s easy or enjoyable, he does it because his father wanted him to.
The extremely young and incredibly talented Thomas Horn is truly a joy to watch as Oskar…even when he’s breaking your heart. As Oskar we see him cope and try to make sense of what happened and what that means for him and the future.
Logic tells him that it’s an impossible mission, but something else compels him to keep looking, something that he can’t let go of. To see someone so young triumph over this kind of material is inspiring to say the least.
Of course he doesn’t meander all over NYC by himself (mostly), he gains a friend and apparent grandfather when his grandmother’s mute tenant (Max von Sydow) joins him in a supporting role that has earned him an Oscar nomination.
Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, and Zoe Caldwell, fill out a cast of many who help Oskar along the way.
This isn’t a movie about 9-11. Yes, that moment in history holds a place in the plot, but it doesn’t dwell on the experience itself. Instead it explores what comes after and how we, and Oskar in particular, cope. It’s a movie about experience. The grief which isolates Oskar from others ultimately brings him closer to them, and I think ultimately brings us closer.
There is tragedy and sadness but they are just a few of many experiences which make this movie worth considering.
Check out more of 2WC’s film reviews: The Crusade on Cinema