Extremely Loud Equally Moves and Unsettles
- Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2012 1 Jan
DVD Release Date: March 27, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: January 20, 2012 (wide)
Rating: PG-13 (emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language)
Genre: Drama, Adaptation
Run Time: 129 min.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Actors: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Zoe Caldwell, Max von Sydow, John Goodman, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright
Depending on your level of cynicism with movies that center around truly heartbreaking tragedies like 9/11, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, based on the best-selling novel by Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated), will either have you reaching for a tissue or sighing from sheer emotional exhaustion.
Or if you fall smack dab in the middle of skepticism’s pendulum, well, you’ll likely feel a bit of both.
Anchored by the sensational performance of newcomer Thomas Horn, who was discovered at a kids’ Jeopardy tournament of all things, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the story of how an 11-year-old boy copes with what he’s dubbed “The Worst Day,” the day when his hero, his best friend, his fellow adventurer and lover of oxymorons, his father, died when the World Trade Center came crumbling down.
And considering how utterly devoted his dad, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks, Larry Crowne) was to Oskar (several flashbacks effectively showcase their engaging father/son dynamic), it’s not surprising that the sensitive, self-proclaimed pacifist, Francophile and amateur inventor isn’t having the easiest time getting over his loss. Worse yet, he and his mom, Linda (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side) aren’t exactly close. In fact, Oskar readily admits that he wishes it was her in the tower, instead of his dad, a reality she’s forced to live with as she mourns herself.
Just as Oskar’s search for answers seems to be leading nowhere, however, he has a “breakthrough” one afternoon when he looks in his dad’s closet for the first time since he passed away. Discovering a mysterious key hidden inside a blue vase he’s never seen before, Oskar becomes increasingly curious about what it opens. If anything, maybe it’s a clue that was meant to unlock an important truth about his father.
Since the key was nestled inside an envelope with “Black” scrawled on the front, Oskar immediately decides that “Black” is definitely a name. So with the fervor of a pirate in search of buried treasure, Oskar throws himself completely into finding everyone in the surrounding area with the last name “Black” so he can solve the mystery. While flipping through the phone book, he eventually comes up with 472 people with that last name, and instead of feeling defeated by the weight of the task, he’s actually more empowered than ever.
After devising an elaborate plan that’ll allow him to meet each and every Black in three years if that’s what it takes, Oskar tells the first of many, many lies and sets out on foot since he refuses to use public transportation. For the record, eschewing the subway is only one of his many peculiarities. To provide a sense of calm considering Oskar gets nervous when confronted with anything from bridges to germs to planes that fly too low, he brings along a tambourine.
Interestingly enough, for all his quirks, Oskar isn’t afraid of what could’ve been the scariest experience of all, namely being all of 11 years old and traveling by yourself in the biggest city in the United States, knocking on the doors of complete strangers in all five boroughs and beyond and inquiring about the origins of a random key.
While many movies require a healthy suspension of disbelief for pure enjoyment’s sake, what’s essentially an ambitious treasure hunt in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is nothing short of unsettling when common sense inevitably kicks in. Whether you’re a parent or not, you can’t help being concerned for this poor kid’s safety when he’s instantly trusting of everyone he meets—and walking into their homes without a care in the world.
At times, it gets so ridiculous that you can’t help wondering where in the world his mom is and even half expect the filmmakers to put a “Remember this is fiction. Do not attempt!” warning somewhere on the screen. Thankfully, someone does eventually join Oskar on the search, but more than anything, you’re just thankful one of the Blacks wasn’t a serial killer.
That major leap of logic aside, there’s still plenty about Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close that’s genuinely moving. Even more than 10 years after 9/11, people are still mourning and trying to make sense of the senseless tragedy, and the film never shies away from just how difficult that can be. But if one theme emerges supreme in the sad, sad story, it’s that people all grieve differently and need genuine support from their fellow man in the process.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Glasses of wine are shown but not consumed. Another character attempts to hide the alcohol he was drinking once Oskar shows up.
- Language/Profanity: A singular use of a--. Sh-- is used twice, plus there are a couple of instances where God’s name is taken in vain. Oskar and the doorman also hurl insults at each other that often sound a lot like expletives but actually aren’t.
- Sex/Nudity: No sex or nudity. One of the people Oskar visits is a man who dresses in women’s clothing. A rude joke involving the male anatomy.
- Violence: Numerous shots of what happened during 9/11—smoking skyscrapers and the fall of the Twin Towers. Oskar has pictures of people falling from the towers and believes one of them is his father. Oskar often takes his grief out on himself by self-injuring. He pinches himself so hard that he’s left with red marks all over his torso. Sometimes his grief turns to anger and he’ll throw things around, rip papers to shreds and not treat people, especially his mother, in a respectful fashion. In fact, he tells her he wished it was her in the tower instead of his father. When talking to the mysterious Renter, he confesses that he worries about doing something “bad” to himself.
Religion/Morals: Scripture is read at Oskar’s father’s funeral, which incidentally, Oskar believes is a waste of time since the coffin is empty. During one of his visits to people with the last name “Black,” a group of people lay their hands on him and pray for him to be safe and in God’s loving arms. Oskar says he doesn’t believe in miracles and has a hard time reconciling belief in anything that doesn’t make sense. Oskar’s mom underscores how terrible things like 9/11 often don’t make sense. Oskar lies repeatedly to his Mom and people around him and even keeps track of his untruths.
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog. For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.