Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

What you might not know about me is that despite a fairly embarrassing learning disability (I was the one kid in my school who was in both special education and the gifted program), I actually have a very active problem solving mind. I loved unraveling the enigma that was the "Tree of Life" for my review on I loved every minute spent solving the puzzle of what really happened behind the gunfight at the OK Corral for my Tombstone comedy. So it's no wonder I greatly enjoyed, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." It basically takes the audience on a problem solving reconnaissance mission. To be honest, I relate to it in other ways as well.

According to his dad (adorably played by Tom Hanks), the way Oskar sees the world is a gift. Oskar's (Thomas Horn) overly active mind continuously scrutinizes the connections he observes in order to make sense of the physical world. Things he can't observe – like people's feelings (including his own) - are elusive and frightening to him. For a boy in need of concrete answers, even the inconclusive results of his Asperger Syndrome test are unsettling.

His dad's gift was to find creative ways to challenge his son. Their favorite games were reconnaissance missions. One such mission was to search the five boroughs of New York for something from every decade. In the process, Oskar spoke to people from all walks of life. The purpose being to overcome his fear of interacting with people. True to form, Oskar comes up with a concrete answer to the riddle – a rock.

When his father is killed in the 9/11 tragedy, Oskar is ill equipped to make sense of the senseless act. His mother (Sandra Bullock) buries an empty coffin in an awkward attempt to make his father's death more real for him and Oskar is outraged at yet another senseless act. Searching for some part of his father to hold onto, Oskar digs through his father's closet and discovers a key inside an envelope with the word BLACK written on it and a newspaper clipping indicating that he should keep looking. Did his father leave him one last message locked away somewhere in the city that only this key can open? The audience is invited along on one last reconnaissance mission. We observe as Oskar constructs an elaborate filing system to chart all the people in the city named Black and set off with him in search of the answer.

Oskar becomes obsessed with this mission because it is the only way he can feel connected to his father. As Oskar compulsively traverses the five boroughs in search of the lock, he inadvertently learns the lessons his father set out to teach him. He makes connections with other New Yorkers with their own stories of heartache from 9/11. The quest gives him a concrete objective enabling him to deal with unmanageable feelings of guilt, fear, grief, and redemption. He faces physical manifestations of his fears – such as crossing a bridge - that he can overcome. The quest gives him a concrete method to deal with a tragedy that makes no sense.

Thomas Horn does a fine job creating a sympathetic character with some very unsympathetic Aspberger traits. The young actor handles both the intensity and humor effortlessly. But not all the credit goes to the actor. For the benefit of the writers out there, I'll share a writing device that the was successfully used by screenwriter Eric Roth. Considerable time was spent setting up the father's love of the boy and his gifts - so we are already rooting for Oskar well before we witness his negative traits (being rude to the door man and the intense meltdowns).

One of my readers suggested that I include more of my opinions on the films. There was one thing that bothered me a bit. The movie went on well beyond the point where I felt there could have been a satisfying ending – presenting several resolutions. But that was the result of the multi-layered story. That's a price I'm willing to pay for a story with some depth.

I believe one reason we go to the movies is to find meaning in the senseless events of our lives. Perhaps there is no way to come to a solid understanding of the senseless act that was 9/11. But "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," offers hope that we can find some comfort in our shared experience and our connections with others.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal


Vickie said...

Started to buy this book. Now I'm for sure going to.

Reel Inspiration said...

I wanted to share a supportive comment I got from one my "Reel Members" (from the e-mail list.) This really made my day!

"As a special education language arts teacher, I am thrilled with your review and I plan on sharing it with my students, whom I am constantly telling how smart they are!"