Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

I'm going to talk about September 11th a lot during this review. If you don't want to read about it, I don't blame you. Skip this review, skip this movie, you probably aren't missing a whole lot.

I hate saying that, though. September 11th is a big thing, a momentous event for the entire country, myself included. I know a film blogger who's 17, which doesn't strike me as odd until I consider that he was seven when the attacks happened. Seven! This fucked up 'War on Terror' mess pretty much all he's ever known, and that hit me in the gut.

Moreso than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in any case. Extremely is the movie that seeks to go back to 9/11 and look at it with the eyes of a child. If you're an adult and didn't realize before that it was an unimaginable horror, congratulations, the movie is eager to sell you on that line for its two hour plus running time.

Not that it tries to clarify much. Director Stephen Daldry is much more interested in the emotional tapestry that the event caused in one of the biggest cities in the world than trying to reason with the event in any intellectual terms. It happened, we don't know why, we're all depressed. What's poor old New York City to do?

Watch movies, of course! That's what I do!

Well, I guess we get to find out, and luckily we're treated to this through the eyes of Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a young man with an area of mental problems coming both from a bout of autism and an inability to deal with the tragedy of his father (Tom Hanks) dying when the towers collapsed. He is also unable to cope with his mother (Sandra Bullock) and her own newly minted mental disorders in the aftermath.

Oskar's autism paints him as a proto-Lt. Cmdr. Data from "Star Trek: The Next Generation." "What is death? What is life?" The kid's form of autism may not be a lack of social skills and may come from general idiocy. Cross these lack of social skills with a wholly generic 'overcome a basic fear' story arc, and you'll watch the film and marvel at how Oskar seems plucked from young adult fiction; Harry Potter and the 9/11 PTSD if you will.

That's not to say Horn is bad in his role. The character goes through the ringer, and whiplashes from likable to insensitive to grating with remarkable and understandable ease. But there's always something too easy about him, and too easy about the quirky whimsical quest he sends himself on for it ever to connect with the cold harshness of the reality that the film presents.

In this film, Africa is real. As is Tom Hanks.

Which brings us to the film itself, the story of Oskar's attempts to reconnect with his father's memories through searching for the meaning of a key he finds in his father's closet. He treks through the five burroughs, meets a healthy pie chart sampling of New York denizens, and goes through a couple of rote 'wacky adventures' that feel comfortable and familiar, which is undoubtedly intentional in the face of the film's attempts to present emotional reckoning with as little logical reckoning as possible. They're selling the emotional payoff without demanding the audience do any heavy lifting.

Which, for such an event, is kind of fucked up if you think about it.

The film underlines this as it desperately tries to rekindle and remind the audience of that strange, sickly sweet glow of post-9/11 unity. It paints New York as a washed out and ubiquitous blandness that seems meant to signify shared emotions and fear but instead seem to underline the film's inability to confront reality. There are flags filling every corner of the washed out frame, and airplanes loom in the sky over Oskar more than a few times.

The film goes a few steps further, as the Jewishness has been practically washed out of the Schells (only Bullock even hints toward an accent in the immediate family), just like the black Blacks have any lingering ethnic characteristics thoughtfully removed. After a run in or two that Oskar has with a couple of friendly hobos and an Wes Anderson-esque excavation he attempts in the middle of Central Park, and you have a New York City that is blatant in its artificiality.

Again, using this as a point to return a real, human city into a comfortable artificiality is kind of fucked up.

This creates a world that I think can best be coined as a Disneyland Dystopia. New York City's evolution from metropolis to cesspool to tourist trap was gradual, but it's turn from tourist trap into national center of tragedy was unexpected and scarring. This movie is an attempt to remove once again the real New York from the proceedings, almost try to remove 9/11 from New York as well. It's frantically signaling for an emotional closure, desperately waving its arms while it returns NYC to a happy, wonderful place that's fun for the whole family.

And, look, as much as I don't care for the film's messages, I can say that this is a well made movie, with some great performances and beautiful imagery. I can also admit I think I'm somewhere around the third or fourth critical backlash wave against the film, as it was first reviled, then nominated for an Oscar, then reviled again, then praised some, and I guess I'm finally punching in at indifferent. Strong opinions going in will only generate more heat upon exit; all others may gain something better.

In the end, I will give Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close this: if the whole point is to provide an emotional catharsis to the audience in consideration of the events of September 11th, it worked for me. God knows I was pretty fucking sick of hearing about it by the end.

Posted by Danny

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