Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” stars Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow and young newcomer Thomas Horn. It’s the story of how the events of September 11th, 2001 affected one family, and one young boy in particular.

The film has been nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Max von Sydow. Yet it currently sits at 46% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.

That’s an incongruity that I couldn’t wrap my head around… So I entered the film not knowing what to expect.

Here’s my take.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” tells the story of a young boy, Oskar Schell, who lost his father on 9/11. As you might imagine, that’s a severely traumatizing event. In the aftermath, he’s been experiencing some mild psychological and behavioral issues.

He’s a bit of a morbid and strange young child.

His father (played by Tom Hanks) was fond of teaching him lessons via scavenger hunts, treasure maps, etc. So, after his passing, when Oskar finds a hidden key which belonged to him, he becomes obsessed with finding the lock it opened. A single word – “Black” – was written on the small envelope the key was in. Convinced that it’s a person’s last name, young Oskar begins to track down all the people with the surname Black in the city of New York, searching for clues regarding the key.

My main issue with the film is its inconsistency. There were times when I felt for the boy very much, then others where he would do something head-scratchingly odd and it would wind up off-putting. There were times where the directorial flourishes were very interesting, then other times where they were a bit overbearing. Mostly though, there were times when the film elicited a genuine response from me… where it was an honestly moving film, and other times when I felt it was extremely manipulative.

In the end, the film won out for me. I have to admit I wound up liking it, and I can see why it got an Oscar nom (Oscar LOVES movies like this). But there’s two obvious hurdles audiences will have to face when it comes to making up their own minds, and this is probably why it’s faring so poorly with so many critics.

The first is the boy himself. Thomas Horn does a fine job playing him, I’m not going to say it’s because of him. But the character is written to be a traumatized boy, a kid who’s a neurotic mess… and so… he does… strange things. For example, he walks around shaking a tambourine on his journeys across the city. Pretty much all the time. He also has a ton of neurosis that pop up along the way. It’s intentional though. The boy is a very rational character. And the movie portrays him trying to make sense of an irrational event.

Unfortunately, I think he’s a character that’s very easy to dislike. I could easily imagine any number of people saying to each other after the movie… “That kid was so annoying”.

The second is 9/11. I knew going in that Tom Hanks’ character dies that day, but I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how heavily they would incorporate that day into the film. It could have been mentioned in passing, it could have been given a single scene, it could have been seriously interwoven into the film. Well, the answer turns out to be c) seriously interwoven into the film. This is a 9/11 movie, and as such, it’s going to draw criticism. I dont know if it will ever not be “too soon” or if it will ever seem as though films that explore that day won’t seem exploitive. It was an event that really left a lot of scars, and there’s going to be a lot of people who dont want the day rehashed. I can totally understand that point of view.

In keeping with the inconsistent nature of the film, there were times that neither of these elements bothered me, and then other times that they did. There were moments when I felt a great deal of sympathy for young Oskar, and then others when I wanted to drag him by the wrist to a child psychologist. There were times when I felt that the tragedy of 9/11 was handled well and the film’s treatment of it was very sensitive, and then others when I felt that it was a little insensitive to base a tear jerker on that day. It’s a memory that “jerks” enough tears on its own.

On the whole, though, I was able to get past the issues and see what the Academy sees in it. It wouldn’t have made my top ten had I actually seen it in 2011, but it is a well made film, with some great performances. Max von Sydow was excellent. As was Sandra Bullock, she landed a great role here. Tom Hanks was perfectly cast.

But the overall theme is probably what got this movie a Best Picture nod. This is the kind of human connectivity message that the Oscars love.

It’s a very emotional film, driven by events which are seared into our subconscious. It features an A list cast, and imparts a message about the commonalities we all share…

If you’re willing to watch a 9/11 movie and wind up not hating the kid, you should be fine. LOL



41 thoughts on “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

    • Yeah… LOL. dont have to be Sherlock Holmes.

      Its not the acting though, I thought the kid himself was ok. They just… overdid it scriptwise with his issues, I think. Not that they couldn’t hapen, they just could have been expressed more skillfully.

  1. I accidentally saw the first minute of it when I walked into the wrong theater. Thinking I was watching the first minute of “Mission Impossible” I thought “oh, that shot is really pretty.” Then I realized my mistake and was horrified at my pleasure. Though it was my mistake (I was in the wrong theater) it was the aestheticization of the jumpers that immediately bothered me. I won’t be seeing this film for a while. Just that first minute made me upset.

    • Exactly… This movie will be too much for a LOT of people. And in truth… The movie gets much more explicit with its 9/11 content than that. It’s just way too sensitive for so many of us.

      And even if you can get past it, then you wind up on the other side, thinking, ok, now they’re just being manipulative. Knowing its so personal for people.

      Overall though I got what it was doing, and forgave it for most of it. At the end of the day I just didn’t think it was “great”.

  2. I went into this not knowing what to expect. I really didn’t want to see another docu-drama about 9/11, but I heard good things, so off I went. I ended up really enjoying the movie. (I am not sure “enjoy” is the p.c. adjective to use or not.) But I found this movie to really look at the events of that day from a new perspective. And I loved the way the lives of strangers were so intertwined.
    I did find one storyline to be very predictable (I am sure you know what I am talking about) yet the last one (the way the movie ended), for some reason, I didn’t see coming…..and it really warmed my heart. I’d be lying if said I didn’t cry a little.

    Now to address Thomas Horn. I thought his job acting was amazing. The character he portrayed was done spot on as far as I am concerned. I was a little surprised at some of the comments about people may think the character was annoying, See, he wasn’t supposed to be a “normal” kid with a few “quirks”……he was a child who was tested for Asperger’s Syndrome and results were found inconclusive. That is a whole different ball game. This subject/diagnosis was only touched upon lightly in the film, almost like it was never even mentioned. In one way, I think it was a good move to avoid labeling him, because once you assign a diagnosis to someone, feelings an emotions can sometimes almost be dismissed as “symptoms”….and I think they wanted his emotions to be “real” and “validated”. However, if you don’t pick up on the fact there may be an actual health issue, he can come across as annoying ad even unlikeable. But, here are some typical behaviors of someone with Asperger’s:
    • Dislike any changes in routines.
    • Appear to lack empathy.
    • Avoid eye contact or stare at others.
    • Be preoccupied with only one or few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about. Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are overly interested in parts of a whole or in unusual activities, such as designing houses, drawing highly detailed scenes, or studying astronomy. They may show an unusual interest in certain topics such as snakes, names of stars, or dinosaurs.
    • Talk a lot, usually about a favorite subject. One-sided conversations are common. Internal thoughts are often verbalized.
    • Have heightened sensitivity and become overstimulated by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures.

    All that being said, if he did have Asperger’s Syndrome….would people be less irritated with the character, and more patient and see him only for the emotions he is going through…..I am not trying to be preachy, but I really think that someone’s “like” for this movie may depend on the side of the fence you are going to fall regarding Oscar’s character.

    All in all, I liked the movie. Top 10….well……..I’ll say …..Yes…..so far as we are into 2012. (How’s that for safe) 🙂

    • I becomes a tricky character to have as your central character though Debbie. Dont get me wrong, you’re right in almost everything you say.

      But I think even if the movie DID come out and say definitively he had Aspergers (which they should have, because I think they would have liked us to think he was just messed up by 9/11 otherwise) it still becomes a challenging character to portray and have the audience get behind.

      In real life its a social/behavioral disorder… so in film… its pretty much the same thing. It’s not an easy character because just like life, its difficult to relate to, behavior is odd, etc.

      I also think there’s a host of other small issues with the movie, but high level, that’s where I shake out on the kid. Not every disabled character can come across as well as rain man did. And honestly, for me, personally, I didnt even mind him that much… Ive just seen/heard a lot of backlash.

      • I can get behind that….it definitely is a tricky character to pull off, and like you responded to Jaina below…..it is a risk as to whether people will connect or not.

      • Yeah… it’s not politically correct to say it (and I don’t personally think it’s a “correct” viewpoint), but in real life a lot of people find it annoying to deal with people with Asperger’s syndrome. It’s not an easy character trait to sell to a general audience.

    • DEBBIE,
      Thanks so much for your precise description of Asperger Syndrome. I was recently trying to tell someone about it, and was able to show them your comments, so that they could understand it better.

  3. I’m pretty sure it only got nominated because it has LOL9/11 in it. If it didn’t, it would never even be mentioned.

    And what the hell is up with these movies that get released like 2 weeks before the Oscar nominations, and end up getting nominated (e.g. this movie and The Artist)? It must suck for movies that got released earlier in the year, and were forgotten.

    • Well… in all honesty, the bullshit goes deeper than that.

      This and the Artist were released “Last Year” in “Select Cities” thus, to the academy theyre 2011 movies. That allows the studios the proper timing to conduct their Oscar campaigns. Screener copies, glad handlig, parties, etc.

      There’s a LOT of BS involved Brik. Some almost crooked stuff at times. And you’re 100% right. It DOES suck for films released early in the year… which is why Oscar Bait is released like it is.

      • Me as well. Even before I started blogging, I went on a pretty good sized rant about it one year. I think it was the year Milk came out — because I didn’t even recognize the names of most of the films being nominated for Best Picture.

      • I stopped giving any credence to the Academy Awards back in 2001. It all just struck me as very political and insincere. Unfortunately. :/

  4. There’s zero buzz about this film here. I know of it, but I’ve not seen a single poster, trailer, nothing. I’m not sure I’ll bother seeing it. I dunno, it just doesn’t appeal. I’ll just go watch Forrest Gump again.

  5. I’m curious. I’m a sucker for movies with treasure hunt themes. Is that a main part of a plot here, or just what sets it off? If it just drops off eventually, I’d rather know in advance.

    • Uh…. well, I dont want to go through spoilers or anything.

      His search once he has the key is a very primary plot to the film. I’ll say that. He uses the tec hniques he learned from his fathers scavenger hunts, too.

      • All right, thanks. I know you walk a fine line with spoilers when you do reviews. I only ask because if the movie is, “This is about a young boy who loses his father in 9/11,” I’d rather not see it — I’d spend the whole time feeling like someone just decided to profit off of a lot of misery. But if it’s, “This is about a young boy who embarks on a scavenger hunt while coping with the loss of his father who just so happened to die in 9/11,” then I’m in, definitely.

  6. I’ll be honest, I’ve had this on my “probably avoid” list since I first saw the trailer. It came across very transparently as manipulative Oscar bait, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that it can be manipulative, nor to see it get Oscar nominated even though the general public hasn’t approved of it. I’ll probably keep it on that list… yours may be the most favorable review I’ve read, and even with you, it didn’t break the “A” level, which is where it would probably need to be for me to reconsider. I’m not a big fan of “Here, FEEL SOMETHING” movies anyway, so when it’s not a Boyz N the Hood-type film where it’s both exceptionally well done and shows something different, I’m kind of disinclined to partake.

  7. Well I’m definately seeing this because I try to see all the nominated films. My main problem is fictional accounts of real events. I’m sure there are many real stories to tell from that day. Beautiful castings with Hanks. Whose not going to be heartbroken to lose Tom Hanks? You did a good write up here. I have a better idea what to expect, but you didn’t give anything away.

    • Thanks Colleen. That’s always a tough balancing act. LOL. Glad I succeeded.

      Seeing all the nominated films is why I saw this too. I’m not sure I would say it DESERVED the nom, but I will say I can see why it GOT the nom.

      Hope you like it, but it’s a tricky one.

    • LOL.

      Well, I did basically describe it as Extremely Loud and Occasionally Irritating.

      So perhaps I’m just dabbling in the Dark Arts? 😀

      I can see how it would rub people the wrong way pretty easily…

    • I’m not sure which films you mean, but man… dont get me wrong. I’d have MUCH rather seen Drive, or Harry Potter 7.2 or Girl with the Dragon Tattoo…


      But… I can see why the Academy chose this one. I dont agree with them. But at least their tastes seem to be consistent. Plus, from the Matinee cast, I heard that the people behind this flick are very poppular in the town right now, so people weren’t surprised (it’s the beneficiary of some favor votes).

      Thanks though for stopping by Scott.

  8. Pingback: Checking Out the “Happy-Haps!”: OSCAR EDITION « The Focused Filmographer

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