Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – 2011
This was a movie of contradictions. It was good but not great. It was moving, but sometimes felt forced. It was serious but a bit insensitive. It is as if it were trying too hard to be emotional, and ended up being passionless. It felt like it was well-made, and at the same time, most critics seem to hate it. In fact, it is the only Best Picture nominee to have a “rotten” rating of 46% on the widely respected Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation website.
As I watched the film, it occurred to me that it is the only movie I know of that deals with the September 11th tragedy in 2001. But the movie wasn’t about the event itself, but of the quest of a nine year old boy named Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, as he attempts to find a lock in New York City that would fit a mysterious key he finds in his father’s possessions. His father, Thomas, played by Tom Hanks, had died in the infamous terrorist attack.
As we are shown in flashbacks, the young man loved going on scavenger hunts that his father would arrange. It was perfectly logical for Oskar to assume that the quest to find the lock that fit the key had somehow been arranged by Thomas. After all he was only a child, and it was made clear that Thomas might have Asperger’s Syndrome. As Oskar tries to make sense of the terrorist attacks that killed his father, he becomes obsessive compulsive about completing his mission.
The name Black had been written on the envelope in which the key had been found. So Oskar goes through the New York City phone book and makes a plan to visit and interview all four hundred seventy-two people with that last name. So, imagine, a nine year old boy with a mild neurological personality disorder wandering the streets of New York City alone and making calls on complete strangers. Because of the nature of his father’s death, he has an innate fear of enclosed places like subways, unstable places like bridges, and of course, high-rise buildings.
At the same time, as he goes on his quest, he becomes more and more distant from his mother, Linda, played by Sandra Bullock. She tries her best to get him to talk to her, to open up to her, but seemingly to no avail. Along the way, Oskar meets the mysterious man known only as The Renter, who rents a room from his grandmother, who conveniently lives across the street. The Renter, played by Max Von Sydow, cannot speak and must communicate through his notepad and a pen.
Overcoming his many fears, Oskar meets and many people with the last name of Black. Among them is Abby Black, played by Viola Davis who, when he meets her, is in tears because her husband is leaving her. She knows nothing about the key, but after weeks of the boy’s fruitless searching, she seeks him out to tell him that her ex-husband, William Black, played by Jeffrey Wright, might know of the key.
The kid was troubled, to say the least. To put it bluntly, he was a jerk. He was mean, dismissive, rude, demanding, insensitive, and all this with a sense that he was always right. At first, I didn’t like his character, but after giving it some thought, I have changed my opinion. Sure, none of those negative qualities had changed, but it was all appropriate. The child had Asperger’s Syndrome. The few people I have known people with that condition have very similar traits and are sometimes difficult to like. Little Thomas Horn actually played the part perfectly.
So, I was sucked in. I wanted to know what they key unlocked. I wanted to know what his father had laid in store for him. But in the end, we never get to find out, precisely. It turns out that the key was never meant for Oskar at all. It was a red herring. But by the end, it became unimportant. The realization of the goal was never as important as the journey to get there.
The key belonged to William Black. It had ended up in Oskar’s father’s possession by mistake. To Oskar, it meant nothing, but to William, it meant everything, and the meeting between the two turned out to be a wonderful catharsis for them both. And this seems like the perfect opportunity to mention how much I enjoyed Jeffrey Wright’s performance. In fact, every time I see him in a film, I have always loved him as an actor. He always does a great job, and his part in this movie was no exception. Viola Davis also really caught my attention.
And I really liked the film’s ending. As it turns out, Oskar’s mother was just as concerned as I was about a young child wandering the streets of New York as I was. But she had to let him do what he needed to. It was the right thing to do, and they became closer because of it. It was a touching ending, despite the difficult journey. This is one of those cases in which the critics should be ignored.