by Allison Begalman
As a moviegoer who has always relied on critics to guide my movie selection, I had decided Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was terrible before it began. Roger Ebert gave it two and a half out of four stars, asserting that the movie is “implausible” and “not a great film,” while The Huffington Post called it the “worst reviewed movie of the past ten years to receive a Best Picture nomination.” However, it may be time to change my selection technique because these assessments are completely wrong.
The film begins one year after September 11. In his acting debut, Thomas Horn plays Oskar Schell, a young boy mourning his beloved father (played by Tom Hanks), who died in the attack on the World Trade Center. After discovering a key inside an envelope with the name “Black” written on the front, Oskar sets out in pursuit of the lock that fits the key, visiting every person in New York City with the last name Black in order to find it. The plotline also explores Oskar’s relationship with a mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), which has been severely strained since his father’s death.
Although many elements of the movie are Oscar-worthy, the complex and unique characters are especially provocative. Max von Sydow portrays a minor character known as “The Renter,” a boarder in Oskar’s grandmother’s (Zoe Caldwell) apartment who does not speak. “The Renter” fills the void left by Oskar’s father and challenges Oskar in ways that only his father had before.
Oskar himself is an unusual hero: a boy who exhibits traits of Asperger’s syndrome; including awkward social interactions and a tendency to blurt out exactly what he is thinking. Regardless, viewing the world through Oskar’s eyes creates a riveting adventure, forcing us to experience and overcome all of his fears and anxieties.
Movieline noted the “9 Most Scathing Critical Responses” to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Peter Sobczynski, an eFilmCritic, takes the number-one spot, writing that the film “takes the most terrible tragedies in our history and reduces it to a level of kitsch.” What he fails to recognize is that this film isn’t really about 9/11: it’s about a young boy’s journey to overcoming his grief.
Oskar is on both a physical and emotional journey: he wants to find a message from his father, but deep down, is also looking for a way to accept his father’s death. Horn’s performance and the poignant story, based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, make this movie a legitimate Oscar contender.