Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)
Release Date: December 25th, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Stephen Daldry Actors: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Zoe Caldwell, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright
skar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a peculiar nine-year-old boy, suffering from grief above all, but also an undefined behavioral disorder – likely Asperger’s syndrome (despite the film specifically addressing a diagnosis as inconclusive). His father Thomas (Tom Hanks) died in the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, and Oskar has been unhealthily coping for a year. He’s almost estranged from his mother (Sandra Bullock) and has difficulty functioning in the real world. He’s unusually intelligent, but frequently distressed at loud noises, the sights and sounds of New York, public transportation, and bridges. Yet he’s fearless when it comes to leaving his home to travel around the city alone on foot.
While snooping in his father’s closet for the first time since his death, Oskar discovers a key inside a small envelope, with the name “Black” written on it, inside a blue vase on a high shelf. He determines it’s his destiny, his mission in life, to locate the lock box in which the key fits, if only to stretch out the fading memory of his father, which he correlates to the comparable eight minutes it would take the world to realize if the sun were to explode (based on the speed of light). Reasoning like his father, Oskar plots out an expedition to track down every person with the name “Black” in the outlying area to ask him or her personally if they knew Thomas Schell (for some reason, he doesn’t think to simply use the phone). He estimates a mere six minutes with each person, journeying only on Saturdays, but his list is so lengthy that it will still take approximately three years to complete. At first he refuses to travel by subway or train, resorting to walking everywhere. But when he meets a mysterious, elderly man (Max von Sydow) known as “The Renter” who stays with his grandmother, Oskar gains a fellow searcher on his quest – and one who acquaints him with the convenience of modern traveling technologies.
The Renter is by far the most interesting character in the film. He doesn’t speak, instead communicating through a notepad and black marker, or by raising one of his hands, each tattooed with the word “yes” or “no.” It’s never revealed exactly why he doesn’t talk, although it’s alluded to that he was a survivor of the Dresden firebombing of WWII. The odd couple pairing of an old man and a young boy is inspiring, heartbreaking, educational and fascinating, as it explores the differences in thought, logic, and the endurance of affliction. Unfortunately, Sydow’s character is only a supporting role. Every minute he’s on screen is sensational. Although there are some undeniably powerful moments between mother and son, nothing comes close to the emotional impact or refreshing uniqueness of the combination of the Renter and Oskar.
Thomas Horn turns in a surprisingly effective performance, despite starting with a dodgy narration and portraying a character that is difficult to sympathize with – not for his tear-jerking backstory, but for his irrational actions and occasionally hurtful attitude toward his mother – this is strongly influenced by his sporadic mental instability and its lack of definition. Asking nonstop questions, being overly trustful of strangers, and entering random homes inspires disappointment instead of empathy. The unconventional editing and cinematography mirrors Oskar’s developmental issues and aids in momentarily seeing things through his perspective. In the end, the idea of filling the void, coming to terms with horrible realities, and finding satisfaction in repairing lost relationships trumps the actual mystery of the key – but the inevitable waterworks and emotional manipulation is at times so draining (and a few revelations too contrived and conveniently set up) to concede a deeper impact.
– Mike Massie