“I laugh, I love, I hope, I try, I hurt, I need, I fear, I cry. And I know you do the same things too, So we're really not that different, me and you.” - Colin Raye
We watched the 2011 Stephen Daldry film “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” starring Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow and Viola Davis. It was an adaptation of the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer with a screenplay by Eric Roth. It is a long and (for many people) painful movie as it involves the events of NYC on 9/11 and uses its events as a backdrop to its action. Some people have actually found this offensive. We didn’t feel offended by it, and although the references are painful and troubling, there is a moving and strong point made by the film about terrorist acts and their impact on ordinary people.
Oskar (Thomas Horn), is a troubled young boy with an autistic-type disorder who is trying to cope with the loss of his father (Tom Hanks). Oskar has a difficult relationship with his mother (Sandra Bullock) and often lashes out at her, and has a great deal of difficulty relating to the world. A year after his father’s death, he discovers a mysterious key in his father’s things and embarks on a search to find the lock the key opens. Oskar treats this quest like a mystery expedition, similar to what he and his father undertook in the past. He gets to meet tens of different people, some close to him some very distant and he gets to discover how to control his fears and cope with the enormity of his loss.
The film is offbeat, centring as it does on young Oskar, with whom some people will find difficulty to identify with. However, it is easy to view the film if one sees it more as a film about father-son relationships than as a comment on 9/11 (which it nevertheless is). Oskar’s father had a troubled relationship with his father and hence the perfect relationship that he worked hard to develop with Oskar. Oskar’s relationship with his father – his hero – was what underlies the immense and heart-breaking loss he feels. Oskar’s relationship with his grandfather and the way that he feels betrayed by it adds to his problems, although it is this relationship that catalyses Oskar’s final understanding and acceptance of the past.
All the actors performed extremely well in this movie, but it is young Thomas Horn and Max von Sydow that deserve the laurels for their performance. Viola Davis has an excellent supporting role and Sandra Bullock plays competently, although her absence during most of the film is noticeable (and ultimately explained). John Goodman has a cameo appearance, and I do believe he is maturing into a fine character actor. The New York setting is both apt and poignant, although this film is bound rub salt into the wounds of many people who were personally affected by the 9/11 tragedy. One can understand this, and one can expect a mass of emotions to surface, one can see why some people have responded extremely negatively to this film.
Some of the criticism levelled at the film is that it was one that was “Oscar-baiting” – i.e. it was made specifically to attract an Oscar for Best Picture. This is feel is slightly insulting to the film-makers as there is no rhyme nor reason to what the Academy will select as Best Picture and there have been many lemons that have got an Oscar and countless worthy movies that got no awards whatsoever. References to the Holocaust and to Oskar’s condition have also been found by some to be troublesome.
It is a challenging film to watch, a trifle too long and it does contain themes that many people will find confronting. Nevertheless we watched it with unflagging interest, we were emotionally involved and the film was poignant and touching in places, but balanced by scenes of sheer joy and joie-de-vivre. Young Oskar was a perfect depiction of a troubled child who is coping not only with a range of psychological disorders but also with the burden of an immense personal loss due to a senseless act of violence and terrorism. The way that he finally manages to cope with these issues and the way that he re-establishes his closest relationships at the end of the movie is the point of the film.