I’d never read the 2005 novel on which the new movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011) is based, but I’d seen theatrical previews several times and was eager for its arrival. Watch below, and maybe—or maybe not—you’ll agree:
From this trailer, I get that there’s a kid who knows he’s always been different from the other kids—but has the good fortune to have as his movie parents the loving Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. I see a kid who suffers a shocking and profound loss on 9/11—the death of his dad. Accustomed to doing various reconnaissance expeditions his dad had regularly directed for him, he then sets out on one of his own making to find the lock that a key of his father’s will open. He meets many strangers along the way, including Viola Davis and Max von Sydow, who also look like troubled souls.
Question for Some Research: Is this film really worthy of my attention or is the preview better than the movie itself?
A summary of problems I encounter:
For starters, many figurative tomatoes have been thrown at it on the popular movie review website—even by many of the “top critics.” Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, for example, calls it “Stephen Daldry’s extremely labored and incredibly crass adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel.”
Next, the title. Critics find it highly mockable. Extremely this and incredibly that. I need not repeat any of the multiple variations on this theme. As you can make up your own without even seeing it, how extremely easy and incredibly unoriginal.
Third, the number of critics who find it either manipulative, contrived, exploitive, or all three, would astound even Oskar Schell, the 11-year-old protagonist of this film who actually likes to count things.
Finally, Oskar himself, as played by Thomas Horn, a real-life TV Jeopardy genius/winner. Several reviewers make a stink about disliking him. I wonder, though, while reading their harsh words, what it actually may say about the critics themselves. For instance, are they missing the possible nuances about being a special kid who might have Asperger’s? Are they aware but insensitive, uncaring, intolerant?
After all of the above, I consider not seeing it after all. But what about the advice Oskar has shared with us in the trailer? “Dad said, you can’t be afraid. Sometimes we have to face our fears.”
I see the movie.
The title twist I now appreciate? Kelton Sears, The Spectator, calls it Extremely Honest and Incredibly Divisive. To his audience of college students who themselves were youngsters about Oskar’s age on 9/11/01:
For those who are ready to go back and take a second look at what happened, this film is spectacular and revelatory for the very same reason it is upsetting so many people. It takes the terrifying, upsetting, uncomfortable plunge, and it succeeds.
And, on the issue of manipulating your emotions, Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post:
If imagining a city where people open their doors (or don’t) to a boy with a key and a ton of questions is sentimental … then it is vitally, beautifully so.
And, Sears again:
…This film will rip your heart out—but it’s okay, because it finally gives meaning to a day that still hardly makes sense. This film reminds us that everyone has lost something.
But what about Oskar? Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly, for one, notes that there’s a mightily significant burden placed upon him:
…Here’s a tale that compacts the grief of an entire world, country, city, and thousands of loved ones left behind into the pain of one vulnerable, fictional boy.
And, Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times:
The filmmakers dive into the deep end as soon as we’ve gotten to know the boy who becomes the totem for our collective pain.
Then there’s Rafer Guzman, Newsday:
Horn delivers a star turn as Oskar, a child trying to make sense of a tragedy that still baffles us all.
And me? I watched this intense and highly intelligent and hyper-focused boy methodically and painstakingly work and work and work towards making sense of his unfathomable grief and loss—and I never ever tired of taking the journey with him.