We just passed the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, overrunning our televisions with programs breaking down the event by the minute or going over all of the conspiracy theories flying around. These shows were run with little controversy surrounding them, due to the fact that they were run as documentaries and remained respectful to the citizens and servicemen and women who died that day. The issue that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close brings us is, “When does a fictional story about 9/11 change into an exploitation?”
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the tale of Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a boy left fatherless due to the 9/11 attack. After a year of struggle, he finds a key in an envelope at the bottom of a vase in his father’s closet. Believing that his father left this key as a puzzle for him, he begins a journey around New York City to find the lock that it fits. He sees this quest as a way to keep his father a part of his life, knowing that it will take three years to follow the clues to the lock. With such a strong relationship with his father, Oskar is shutting out his mother (Sandra Bullock), openly wishing that she had been the one to die. The bulk of the film follows Oskar travelling the city, meeting hundreds of people. While the encounters with the people of New York were some of the highlights of this movie, Oskar’s journey was not always interesting. Clocking in at 2 hours and 9 minutes, the lengthy trip around NYC seemed to drag at times.
The acting in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is overall, very well done. Sandra Bullock excellently portrays the grief and sorrow of a widow, who is now losing her son. Tom Hanks, while his screen time is limited to flashbacks, still creates a very lovable father figure. He has that charisma and charm that makes you enjoy all of his scenes, while breaking your heart during the flashbacks of the actual 9/11 attack. The supporting actors that were revealed through Oskar’s journey were all remarkably well played. Some of my favorite characters from the film were only briefly shown on screen. One notable performance was “The Renter” played by Max Von Sydow. The renter, who never speaks a word in the film, becomes a companion to Oskar while he searches for the lock. The emotion that Sydow is able to express only using written notes and body language is remarkable. It was easily the best performance of the film.
I find it difficult to judge the performance by Thomas Horn, due to the character he plays. Oskar is never stated to be autistic, but is blatantly played in that sense. He has trouble interacting socially, requires a tambourine to help soothe his anxiety, has a multitude of phobias, constantly covers his ears or holds himself tightly to cope with stress, etc. I think that the autism does create a more realistic character, but the fact that he can’t deal with the events of 9/11 turns him into a difficult character to relate to and empathize with. The explosions of anger towards his innocent mother and tantrums he throws are completely unapologetic. Also, the social disconnect that the character has messes with how I interpreted the acting of Thomas Horn. At times Horn was great in the role, but other times felt flat and lifeless. Some of the more emotional dialogues with Horn taking the lead felt forced and unbelievable. I’m not sure if he was playing too much into the character or was simply unable to communicate that emotion onto the screen. Either way, it detracted quite a bit from the film.
Technically speaking, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a wonderfully shot film. The cinematography shows off every part of the city, while using the scenery to allude back to the 9/11 attack. White birds are used over and over in the scenes, representing the papers that were falling from the towers after the attack, and the empty sky over Ground Zero was frequently displayed in the background. Sadly, all of the 9/11 references are part of my biggest problem with this film.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is without a doubt, a tear-jerker. The story of Oskar losing his father and searching for this lock could have taken place in any situation. His father could have died in a car wreck or some other fictional accident, but the choice to make the event 9/11 seems almost offensive. While other movies tug at your heartstrings with genuine characters and commonplace sob stories, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close almost seems to use a fictional story to capitalize on a very real tragedy in America’s history. Every one of us remembers where we were on 9/11, we all remember how we felt on that day. When you watch this movie, all of those feelings come rushing back, especially when it repeatedly showcases Tom Hanks jumping off of the tower. It seems like such a cheap way to illicit and manipulate emotion out of the American audiences.
While being a solid film, I feel that it would have been much better if it hadn’t relied so heavily on all of our emotions tied to 9/11. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close stirs up a multitude of feelings, but the most powerful emotion I walked away with was frustration. It is very frustrating that a tragedy would be used to sell tickets and manipulate audiences.
I give Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
3 “Answering Machines” out of 5