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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Yesterday I want to see the movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close based on the novel by author Jonathan Safran Foer. I'd heard on tv that even though the events of 9/11 are part of the story line, it isn't a movie about that day but rather the healing process a young boy creates for himself after losing his dad (played by Tom Hanks) in the World Trade Center.

This review contains no spoilers.

I loved this movie. Aspects of the lead character's quirkiness reminded me of my husband and his fearfulness reminded me of myself as a child. From a technical standpoint the way the movie was shot is very pleasing. In particular I really appreciated the focus on tiny details, small actions and the ability of the movie to draw out (of me) all encompassing emotions. There were moments where feelings were depicted and conveyed so strongly, like when Oskar felt small, alone and fearful, that I was absolutely able to identify with him. Some of the lighting and lens effects were beautiful. That said, I don't think this is a movie for everyone.

I think this is the kind of movie that people will either love or hate.

I thought the events of 9/11 would be included at the beginning of the movie to set the stage for all that happens after. But instead, what happened that day is carried throughout the film revisited from the perspectives of Oskar and his mother. So I don't know if it's fair to say the movie isn't about the day itself because the day is featured throughout the film from the beginning to almost the very end.

Why some will love or hate the film is because I think there's always a danger when one uses a real life tragedy in a story of fiction. Some events, like 9/11, call for such reverence that for many, to use them in a movie (at all) feels exploitive and opportunistic. For me, if done respectfully, it feels like a way to bear witness so that those lost are never forgotten.

Surprisingly, I think the film's biggest challenge is the audience's reaction to its lead character, nine year old Oskar who struck me as a combination of Dustin Hoffman's character in "Rain Man" and little Brick Heck from the tv sitcom "The Middle." There are two ways to take him. On the surface, he's bossy, angry, loses control of his emotions, is neurotic and speaks with no filter saying hurtful and cruel things just because he thinks them. He says he was tested for Autism but the results were inconclusive. If you can't get past his unlikable persona you probably won't like the movie. But he is also fearless, tenacious, loving in his own way, incredibly intelligent, wounded and struggling to overcome the guilt he feels related to the loss of his father. If you can empathize with his personality beyond his abrasive qualities I think you'll be deeply moved by his experience.

Oskar's mom is portrayed by Sandra Bullock. She offers an authenticity that makes her grief, vulnerability and loneliness convincing and consistent throughout the film. Tom Hanks as his father is the yin to Oskar's yang. You get the feeling that with his dad beside him he "fit" into his family and the world better than without him. His dad was kind, fun, creative and adventurous and brought out the best in Oskar as he encouraged him to expand his imagination, resourcefulness and ability to love. Most of the other people he meets along the way might best be described as character vignettes with little development. But each conveys a strong personality trait or sense of emotion (rather than self) ranging from kindness, sadness, altruism, anger, hope, love, or compassion that adds to the emotional momentum of the movie from beginning to end.

If I had to describe Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close in a single word it would be poignant. Often, overwhelmingly so. It is raw and emotionally wrenching with a fairly constant sense of sadness coming like waves throughout the film. The culmination is profound and not what I had anticipated it would be. For some the strength of the ending won't be enough to overcome the sadness that came before but for me it did.

If you forget to bring Kleenex to a tear jerker movie a tp mitten is a quick fix.

Two tips about this movie:
  1. If you enjoy quirky characters and dramatic movies that contain a lot of sadness but are ultimately uplifting, you will probably enjoy Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as much as I did.
  2. If you go, bring Kleenex with you. And make sure it's the kind with lotion in it so that your nose doesn't chafe or turn red by the end of the film. If you forget to bring Kleenex make sure you stop by the restroom on the way in and roll yourself a toilet paper mitten so you'll have an endless supply of tissue during the show. I'd say on the safe side to make sure you take at least 12 squares of toilet paper to EL&IC. 

Jonathan Safran Foer also wrote the (non-fiction) book Eating Animals that I reviewed here on the blog back in 2010. Before Eating Animals he also wrote the fiction novel: Everything is Illuminated.

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