“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” opens on a morbid note with a man jumping from the World Trade Center as the 9-year-old narrator questions where dead bodies go when the world runs out of room to bury them.
This stark opening sets the tone for the rest of the movie. “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” follows Oskar Schell’s struggle to cope with the death of his father. Although it has its share of heartwarming and sentimental moments, most of the movie takes on a depressing and emotionally draining quality.
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" as seen by the CUI's Ainslee MacNaughton. (Courtesy Warner Bros.)
Thomas Horn plays Oskar, the film’s protagonist. Horn introduces Oskar’s emotional challenges in an honest manner. The movie hints that Oskar has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism-like disorder, which Horn handles well. He reacts to certain things – people screaming, old people, unattended bags and especially bridges – in a panicky manner, and he seems to have a hard time relating to the people around him. For example, after the attack, Oskar wakes his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) in the middle of the night to ask her not to bury him in the ground when he dies. After accusing her of being an absent parent, he tears apart the kitchen and finally says that he wishes she had been the one that died on “the worst day.”
Oskar is sent home early from school on September 11, and he listens to the messages on the machine as he eats yogurt. The messages are from his father, asking if anyone’s home and saying that he had hoped he would get to talk to him. Eventually, the pieces come together for Oskar, and he hides under his bed until his grandmother and mother come home and find him.
A year later, Oskar ventures into his father’s closet for the first time. While he is looking through his father’s things, he knocks a vase off a shelf, shattering it. Among the shards, Oskar finds a key in an envelope with the name Black written on it.
To Oskar, solving the mystery is a way to make sense of his world. He struggles to understand that his father is gone and questions why someone that never knew him would kill him, and in doing so he sets out on a journey, beginning with meeting every person in New York City with the last name Black.
Oksar meets the Blacks and glimpses into their lives. It seemed that the film would venture into a feel-good story about human relationships and the way different people live. However, Oskar doesn’t like spending too much time with these people; he had hoped to limit each visit to six minutes for efficiency. Oskar is far more focused on finding the lock the key belongs to, rather than interacting with the people he meets.
The catharsis of the movie come when a sentimental mother-son bonding moment occurs, complete with a “what do you miss about dad” conversation. By this point, the bonding seems almost fake and oddly timed. Oskar spent the last hour and forty five minutes lashing out at his mother, but calms and seemingly relaxes it in a few minutes.
One of the main issues I had with the film was Oskar’s ability to navigate through the five boroughs of New York City alone. He is 9-years-old, but he walks the streets of the big city without ever getting lost or being endangered. There are even multiple shots of Oskar standing in the street while cars drive by, but he is never hurt or yelled at. A kid roaming the city seemed unrealistic and pulled me out of the movie multiple times.
There is a subplot involving the man who rents a room in Oskar’s grandmother’s apartment. “The Renter” (Max von Sydow) doesn’t speak because of a traumatic event in his childhood, and he begins helping Oskar search for the lock the key belongs to. It is eventually revealed that “The Renter” is actually Oskar’s absent grandfather who left before Oskar’s father was born. This development is predictable and seems a bit contrived, especially as “The Renter” ends up leaving New York. While “The Renter” slowly pulls Oskar out of his shell, forcing him to face his fears such as crossing bridges, the story seems to have been an afterthought. Mostly, I was just glad that Oskar finally had some supervision as he ran around New York City by himself.
The film’s depiction of the grief the Schells must live with is startlingly honest. Oskar lashes out at his mother and the people around him. He also pinches himself to distract from the emotional pain, and he says at one point, “It hurts too much. Sometimes I think I might do something really bad.” Linda spends most of her time sleeping, unable to cope with the grief. Although there is nothing new about these reactions, the film presents them in a realistic light that allows the audience to connect with the characters.
Tom Hanks, who plays Oskar’s father Thomas Schell, plays his part well and realistically. He encourages his son to face his fears through the expeditions he sends him on. The father-son relationship presented is nothing new, but Hanks and Horn play the dynamic with charm.
Bullock similarly does a good job portraying Oskar’s grief-stricken mother, but her talents are wasted for most of the movie as she gets limited screen time until the very end. Her character is underdeveloped, although she is revealed to be an important character at the end.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” crams a lot into a short amount of time, focusing heavily on the grief and tragedy the Schells are going through. The film isn’t cohesive, as it is told with flashbacks and time jumps. It is too heavy, with very few happy moments to balance things out. Oskar grows slightly, but also stays the same. The journey teaches him about his father but doesn’t seem to give him enough closure. Overall, the film touches on grief in a half-predictable, half-touching manner while throwing in random subplots to balance it out.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ainslee Mac Naughton at Ainslee.email@example.com.
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