Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was directed by Stephen Daldry, known for The Reader, Billy Elliot, and The Hours. It has been advertised as a stunning, avant garde movie centering on how the 9-11 tragedy affects one family. It centers around Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a nine-year-old boy who is hell bent on discovering a remnant of his father’s past. His father is Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), a jeweler, who dies in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The last remnant, as it were, he has left behind for his son is a cryptic key Oskar finds in a vase in the closet after his father is dead. He is from then on driven and fixated on finding the lock that the key opens. This generates a plot of pseudo adventures meeting all sorts of people and devising all sorts of elaborate schemes along the way. What about the twin towers? That was my burning question most of the movie. Make no mistake: this film is not so much about 911. Instead it is more akin to a public service announcement for Asperger’s syndrome, or some garden variety diagnosis of a tortured genius nine year old.
Oskar Schell apparently has license to scream horrible words at his mother, (Sandra Bullock) because of his unique disorder. He rolls on the floor, bangs his hands against furniture, and shows utter frustration when his “genius” ideas are thwarted. I could get into the unrealistic amounts of time he is alone to carry out his adventures but I won’t. I also won’t get into the ridiculous cussing exchanges (equally implausible) he has with the security guard (John Goodman) of his building as he comes and goes. I don’t think this movie is meant to be realistic; it’s up to something else. I am not sure I know what it is. It is definitely hard to follow. Fortunately, we can find some compassion for the boy and that held my interest for some of the film.
Of course, anyone would have sympathy for Oskar. He lost his father who was seemingly his best friend to the tragedy we now refer to as 9-11. Still, it doesn’t excuse his disdain for his mother and the strange fixations he leaps headlong into to find the origin of the key. Along the way, he meets a nice, quiet (mute in fact), man who rents a room from his grandmother. He is aptly called “The Renter” (Max von Sydow). He accompanies Oskar on his key expedition, which is very difficult because the old man cannot speak. In a way, the renter is best suited to Oskar: he never talks back. The renter is Oskar’s long lost mute grandfather and ironically becomes the only voice of reason. In my opinion, Max von Sydow gives the most compelling performance in the movie. I must add also that there isn’t much competition.
Oskar is very taken with his own “clever” ideas and likes to tell people about them with every opportunity. His lines are annoying and they delivered by an equally unsettling voice. There isn’t much more to the story than Oskar finding the lock for the key. The mystery’s end is not exciting and he doesn’t seem to advance much in is grieving process for his dad.
I think that this movie failed to impress me because it was not about what it advertised. A movie can get away with that when it is such a powerful film you forget you were cheated by the ads. In my opinion, this movie used 9-11 as a “bait-and-switch theme to get people into the theater. There is only minimal reminiscing about the tragedy. On the other hand, the movie centers on Oskar, who is not an emotionally well young man. We therefore have nothing to relate with. The boy’s actions are annoying and obtuse; he treats his mother atrociously. I can’t relate with how a kid like that sees his mother and the world. We want to relate with Oskar but the feelings never come.