For someone who supposedly loves movies, I must be incredibly out of it, because I’d never really even heard of this movie – Incredibly Loud & Extremely Close, even though it was nominated for Best Picture a couple of years ago. We got it quite randomly from the weekly section of the video store (alongside Olympus Has Fallen – which could hardly be more different).
As I watched it, I also had a quick read about the film online, and discovered that the film has earned all sorts of hate. People call it the worst movie nominated for Best Picture in years, the worst movie of the year (2011), and “calculated…Oscar bait”. Numerous internet trawlers describe the main character, young Oskar Schell, to be the most annoying film character ever, with one saying that they think that he, instead of the character’s father, should have died in 9/11. Now, it doesn’t take a lot to bring out a whole lot of nasty in the comments section of any article on the internet – but still, that’s a pretty extreme response.
It shows me how much one’s view of a film can be influenced by the context in which you experience it. For me, watching Incredibly Loud & Extremely Close didn’t have any of that manipulative Oscar-grabbing stigma associated with it. Instead, it was a slow, quiet drama about a boy who may or may not have aspergers whose beloved father dies during 9/11, and his efforts to make sense out of events that have no real rhyme or reason to them. It’s got quite an accomplished cast, with Tom Hanks as the deceased father (in multiple flashbacks), Sandra Bullock as the suffering mother, and Max von Sydow as the mysterious “Renter”, who lives in the main character’s grandmother’s spare room, and who never speaks. In spite of having no lines, the accomplished actor delivers a memorable performance. Still, the star of the movie is young Thomas Horn, who does make Oskar Schell appropriately abrupt and unpleasant (though hardly the most annoying character in screen history), but still deeply sympathetic.
Perhaps it’s hard to not make such a character at least somewhat sympathetic, considering that the incidents of 9/11 resonate with everyone in America (and much of the world) to at least some degree. Certainly I was emotionally caught up in scenes like Oskar’s mother futilely trying to call her husband after the twin towers have collapsed. But overall I thought the film managed to do it with a minimum of sentiment (ie, corniness), for at least much of the story. The ending – with the revelation of the mother’s involvement with Oskar’s quest, the mother looking at the book, Oskar solving his father’s riddle, etc. – slides into that direction, but not unbearably. The movie leaves a number of points purposely ambiguous, which actually works. But the key story of Oskar’s emotional journey is resolved satisfactorily.
My favorite moment in the film comes hear the start as Oskar recounts to us in the audience the list of things that he’s afraid of, many of which have become more of an issues since what he calls “the worst day”
Old people. Running people. Airplanes. Tall things. Things you can get stuck in. Loud things. Screaming, crying. People with bad teeth. Bags without owners. Shoes without owners. Children without parents. Ringing things. Smoking things. People eating meat. People looking up. Towers. Tunnels. Speeding things. Loud things. Things with lights. Things with wings. Bridges make me especially panicky.
In the end, I felt it was a good movie, but not one that I’d have picked for a “Best Picture” Oscar.