Some Nouns, Some Verbs, and 9/11: Milking Tragedy in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Director Stephen Daldry has never met a Big Theme he didn't like: After 2002's The Hours, a lugubrious women's-problem picture touching on AIDS and assisted suicide, he went to Auschwitz with 2008's The Reader. Following two such high-toned literary adaptations with such hefty subject matter, Daldry's logical next stop is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which not only has a serious lit pedigree, based as it is on the sophomore novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, but also two global-historical tragedies to play with.

Ten-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) has lost his father (Tom Hanks), who was on the 105th floor of one of the twin towers on the morning of 9/11. Almost a year later, Oskar, increasingly estranged from his mother (Sandra Bullock), finds a key in an envelope labeled "Black" among his father's effects and, in an effort to keep open the dialogue with his scavenger-hunt-designing, game-playing dad, concludes that this key was the prompt to a last riddle, which he sets out, at length, to solve. Oskar, a whiz-kid strategist, does this by systematically interviewing every "Black" in the New York City phone book and hopes for a clue as to what lock the key fits, a quest that takes him on a bridge-and-tunnel tour of greater New York from Gowanus scrap yards to the Far Rockaways. He is joined for a leg of his mission by a mysterious, mute tenant staying in his grandmother's apartment (Max von Sydow), very likely the grandfather, deadened by his experience in the Dresden firebombing, who abandoned Oskar's father.

Oskar is a child prodigy of sorts, full of pedantic facts ("Only humans can cry tears—did you know that?") and overwrought sentence constructions ("I don't want to infect a multitude of people at school—I could be a walking pathogen!"), all offered in quick, clipped delivery. (Befitting the precocity of Oskar, first-time actor Horn is a Jeopardy! Kids' Week champion.) Extremely Loud is predicated on the idea that everyone Oskar encounters feels protective affection for the boy and is touched by his plight, though Horn's chafing performance recalls nothing so much as Bruce McCulloch's horrid "Gavin" character on The Kids in the Hall, perpetually pestering strangers with goonish questions. ("If my head was veal, which I know it is not, how much would it be worth?")

The standout performance, unsurprisingly, is from 82-year-old von Sydow who, communicating with brief notes on tearaway notebook pages and "Yes" and "No" tattoos on his palms, puts a profound amount of nuanced inflection behind every accompanying expression. Hanks, seen in flashbacks, is called to do little more than be imminently likable; Mr. Schell is the ultimate mensch, a doting husband who spends his last night with his son in a routine tickle fight. (Would his death be less tragic if he were seen displaying a single human failing?)

Much of Mr. Schell's free time was spent designing "missions" for Oskar—including a search for the legendary lost sixth borough of New York—crafted to help the boy confront his fears. Even before the towers fell, Oskar was a withdrawn, Asperger-y child; now he shakes a tambourine wherever he goes to ward off numerous anxieties. Mr. Schell invented games to bait Oskar out of his anxieties, while Extremely Loud plays its own writerly game of strategic withholding, baiting the audience along the way to a therapeutic breakthrough for the surviving Schells. "Can I tell you something I never told anyone else?" asks Oskar in a conference with a stockbroker played by Jeffrey Wright, but by then, the movie is already nothing but serial confession.

Aside from the case of the key, gimmicks include six traumatic 9/11 answering-machine messages from a trapped, dying Mr. Schell, strategically counted down for suspense; the unveiling of the grandfather's identity; and a rather absurd third-act 180 for Bullock's character, topped only by a swelling-soundtrack tour through Oskar's scrapbook. Such an abundance of "epiphanies," one after another, amount to a tactical assault on viewer sentiments. The deluge of tears is Daldry's idea of pathos, but to these eyes, it's Oscar-trolling 9/11 kitsch.

 
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9 comments
Tatyart11
Tatyart11

Please, learn the difference between review and synopsis. That shouldn't be the Voice.

Roy Halliday
Roy Halliday

Sometimes it would be nice to find out if the movie is worth seeing. This and other reviews sound like an assignment from a Colombia journalism class. Analysis is fine but I can do that on my own. Thumbs up or down and maybe a neutral rating that's all I need

Rose
Rose

I loved it go see it:).

Roy Halliday
Roy Halliday

Sometimes it would be nice to find out if the movie is worth seeing. This and other reviews sound like an assignment from a Colombia journalism class. Analysis is fine but I can do that on my own. Thumbs up or down and maybe a neutral rating that's all I need,

Bless Rose

Edna
Edna

Hate it. Do not waste your money.

Seadogs
Seadogs

SO FAR, NO INTELLIGENT REMARKS HAS BEEN REVEALED.

Turk
Turk

... yeah GET A BRAIN, MORANS!

Turk
Turk

... i read somewhere that it was slated to be released on the 10th anniversary of...

but you're saying that's just too damn far off from oscar season, and so no cigar?

yo why you gotta hate on a nigga, and- furthermostly- what exactly is your beef against dairy?i'll have you know that milk can be used in a variety of contexts, and comes in delicious textures and flavors.further furtheralso, saffran foer is a literary mastermind. i read that somewhere. it was in french. yes, i read french (in a variety of contexts, textures, and delicious flavors).if you must know, i'd say it tastes like pussy, jut that's just me, myself, and my microphone. and manny being manny. that's right, bitch: he's being reinstated by the league, and he'll slap a ho' some mo', then again fugazi is brendan canty, joe lally, ian maccaye and guy pearce.... i guess we'll never know.

 

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