Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
It was a risk, casting an unknown in the primary role, and a child, at that. But Thomas Horn, who got noticed by winning Teen Jeopardy, is really engaging as 9-year-old Oskar Schell, the main character in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” And it’s no small feat to outshine Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, and hold your own with Max Von Sydow.
Oskar is a little loner child who is obsessing about something he found in his Dad’s closet, after his Dad suddenly disappeared from his life on 9/11/01. While it’s nothing unusual for a boy to long for an absent father, it’s especially poignant because Oskar’s Dad’s absence is clearly not his fault. He happened to be in a meeting on the 125th floor of the World Trade Center that fateful day. He left six messages on the answering machine, and Oskar was standing there for the last one, and couldn’t bring himself to pick up the phone, so part of what drives him is guilt, which is a difficult motivation for a nine-year-old.
It seems that Oskar finds a key, inside an envelope with “Black” written on it. Oskar is convinced that if he could only find what the key opens, he could somehow re-connect to his father in a new way. He searches New York City for people with that last name, and is not afraid to knock on their doors and speak to them (though supposedly he doesn’t relate well to strangers).
Since we’re all uncomfortable with the idea of a 9-year-old wandering the subways and the boroughs by himself, enter his grandmother’s “boarder,” Thomas (Max Von Sydow), who has his own problem with social relations: he doesn’t speak. He has to write down his responses, which, of course, makes him about as talkative as a taciturn cowboy on a cattle drive. But he agrees to accompany Oskar on his quest, while Oskar’s Mom (Bullock) remains strangely absent, both physically and emotionally.
Director Stephen Daldry (whose “Billy Elliott” established his credentials as a child-friendly director) carefully weaves in the back story, of Oskar happily relating to his Dad, Thomas, Jr. (Hanks), as they made up games together, searched for things and left clues for one another, and generally enjoyed the kind of warm, fun, interactive, close relationship that every boy yearns for from his Dad, but few are privileged to enjoy. We can see that this whole quest is actually Oskar working through his extraordinary grieving for his Dad, and while he’s doing that, we are all reminded all over again about how our whole view of the world changed on that fateful and momentous day. Literally, things will never be the same for us, either. The world is somehow now a more foreboding and dangerous and scary place, and Oskar reflects all of that, even as we still do.
You’ve probably already figured out that this is a Kleenex movie. Its release shortly after the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01 certainly forewarns you that we are going to re-live that horrific event, this time through the incomplete emotional filter of a sorrowful little boy. You will not be unaffected.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas