By Mel Papalcure, Muse staff
Across the board, critics have lampooned Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as Hollywood finally cashing in on the 9/11 attacks. An artistic homage to the devastation of 9/11 and its aftermath, this film is doing anything but cashing in. What it is, however, is a beautiful glimpse at the life of an insatiably curious child and the terrible pain, guilt and confusion that comes from losing a parent.
The incredibly talented Thomas Horn portrays Oskar Schell, an intelligent boy who may or may not have Asperger’s Syndrome. Oskar says what he thinks, does what he feels and is overcome by an unquenchable passion for mystery. His father, Victor Schell (Tom Hanks) will forever remain the perfect Dad to him; the hero, taken by a catastrophic tragedy. Oskar’s father cultivated and fed his son’s voracious mind, and in order to coax him through his greatest fears, he sent Oskar on a never-ending quest to find the lost sixth borough of New York.
Oskar, already fragile, is now disturbed by his father’s death, and filled with swerving, chaotic emotions. His relationship with his mother (Sandra Bullock) was always distant, and with his father now gone, the rift between them widens. When Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet, and a message to “not stop looking,” he journeys through the city on a quest to find its lock.
Along the way he meets a great number of fascinating people. A mysterious man, “The Renter” (Max von Sydow), lives in his Grandmother’s apartment, and agrees to help him on his search, though he only communicates by scribbling messages on pieces of paper.
While at times the film dips into melancholy waters, plucking at sympathetic heartstrings, to say it is a gross exploitation of one of the most devastating events in American history isn’t giving fair justice to Stephen Daldry’s work, nor to the outstanding actors who brought Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel to life.
The cinematography is clean, bright, and observant – capturing the unique way Oskar views the world. There is no way to explain how muddled and afraid a child feels in the wake of losing a parent, especially from something as confusing and terrifying as a terrorist attack. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close handles the delicate, horrific details of Oskar’s grief with careful hands. And as for the blown up pictures of people falling from the towers, it is more than plausible that any grieving 11 year-old with Internet access would have done the exact same thing.
While Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close deals with 9/11, its focus is on the life of a grieving boy and his family in the aftermath of his father’s death. If it had tried to encompass every story, every family ruined by the collapse of the towers, this film might have seemed insulting or demeaning. But Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close depicts an America, and a New York that loves, that cares, that comes together to help people in its community. It treats a child’s thoughts and emotions with gravity and importance – and teaches us to go on adventures, to never stop looking.
Why bash a movie like that?