When you see Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I think there are a few things you need to remember and keep an open mind about. One, the film is mostly told from a unique child’s perspective. So when his inner monologue feels a bit cliche or dramatically out of touch, remember how you thought as a child. Not all of our ideas were made of gold, but we didn’t know that yet. Go easy on him. Two, yes, this film is about the attacks on September 11th, like America cannot get enough of its own tragedy. Though the film remembers the past (and who could blame this kid for it?), the story is really about moving on from any tragedy. The scars of September 11th are too much for one film to heal. And three, this kid has amazing parents, both of them.
Oskar Shell (Thomas Horn) was about nine years old on September 11th. He and his father (Tom Hanks) were very close and has always encouraged Oskar’s curiosity. He asks so many questions, many parents would have given him the terrible answer, “Just because,” years ago, but thankfully not his father. They play elaborate mind games where Oskar searches for artifacts all over Central Park. These games of critical thinking have made Oskar very organized and independent for a boy his age. I believe he is a gifted child, but also suffers from anxiety and social issues, possibly Asperger’s syndrome.
After that day, Oskar is without his father, his teacher and playmate, and is faced with something he cannot comprehend: chaos. He is too logical to understand why this happened and it hurts to see this boy grasping at nothing, hoping he can find answers. And his mother (Sandra Bullock) is doing all she can for him, more than he knows.
What Oskar does find is a key. He believes, somehow, that finding what it unlocks will help bring him some last connection and closure with his father. The elaborate system Oskar sets up to search all over New York is impressive and his determination should be encouraged.
Along his journey to find where the key fits, Oskar meets a wide variety of people. Most of them are helpful and welcoming. As he meets them, in his unique socially awkward fashion, Oskar takes their photograph and catalogs them in his journal. While he is focused on the key, the boy does not realize how his journey is touching so many people in a beautiful way. But that’s just how kids are, right? Too easily they can focus on one tangible idea and gloss over the big picture in front of them. I’m sure we can all remember a moment like that from our childhood.
One important person Oskar meets is The Renter (Max von Sydow), who rents a room from his grandmother (Zoe Caldwell). He does not talk (whether he can or not is a mystery) and offers to help Oskar on his quest. I love how he keeps his communication simple, with a thick pen and pad of paper and tattoos on his palms for ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I think that sort of simple logic draws Oskar to him. Without saying a word, The Renter reveals levels of intrigue and guilt, that adults will connect far before Oskar does.
This film seems oddly slipped into the Best Picture nominations, I certainly did not expect it. It only has one other nomination, Max von Sydow for Best Supporting Actor, and to hear his name called in 2012 feels out of place. I do not find the technical aspects of the film great. Adults will connect a few plot points before they come to fruition, but I feel compelled to overlook that since this is a child’s journey and mostly his perspective.
What I believe earned this film that last slot is something emotionally poignant and intangible. Since I saw it on Friday, I find myself thinking back to it often. I have reanalyzed moments unintentionally throughout the day. There are small, telling moments that haunt me a bit. Perhaps the way this film is hard to shake is what put it in the Best Picture category. I do believe this film is good, very good, but not great. It is too easy to mistake this to be a film simply about September 11th. It’s about moving on from it and should serve as hope to anyone after experiencing unspeakable tragedy.
“Isn’t everyone somehow odd?”
If the Academy is looking to award a film that uses one tragic story to better understand a different kind of grieving that people can experience, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close will win the Oscar for Best Picture.