Review- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Thomas Horn in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.)

It would seem based in part on some the reactions that this film has received that 9/11 is still a cinematic subject matter that is off limits in the minds of some. For my ruminations of the handling of the day and my thoughts on it go here, in this review I will try and stay on topic, which is the film at hand. As for the film itself it handles the day and its ramifications with about as much restraint and respect as possible with very few and minor exceptions.

The few minor missteps are taken in the realm of artistic license where our protagonist Oskar has fleeting visions of his father having jumped. Aside from that I just have a very minor quibble about the very closing shot, however, all told the marketing did not lie and much of the story does deal with the days after. When dealing with 9/11 itself it is usually over the phone or on voicemail. The buildings are not entered, the day is not painstakingly chronicled. There is one scene with a shot of the towers in the distance and one with the implosion on TV. This laundry list may seem a bit trite but when dealing with an actual tragedy in a fractured chronology you will, as in real life, repeat the tragedy many times so it’s key to see it as little as possible. I think it’s fair to say we all remember what it looked like.

Ultimately, breaking the timeline up starting with a burial then going back occasionally to just before it happened and then to the journey undertaken afterward is the most effective possible treatment. This rendition of the events of the date thus far this one has most closely replicated the range of emotions I felt on that fateful day. In its traversing time and displaying impacts then causes and moreover conveying the tangibility of the senselessness of the acts and the confusion and fear they incurred the film recreates the numbness, the gnawing in my stomach and the sudden floods of emotion triggered soon thereafter. In a manner of speaking it acts as a time capsule. As fantastical as the storyline is in certain ways it hits truths on many levels.

People have issues when raw nerves are hit. Hitting nerves is what art should do as long as it’s done tastefully and I think this film succeeds in that regard it just so happens that all the nerves on this event are still rather raw. This is likely a kind of story we won’t be comfortable with for a very long time but let’s face it the moratorium ended long ago. Whether one finds this experience cathartic or manipulative is quite subjective I’ll admit but I found it to be the former.

One thing that I cannot state clearly enough is that one ought not confuse Oskar’s character with Thomas Horn’s performance. Oskar, the character, is socially awkward and referred to as having undiagnosed Aspeberger’s, he’s an at times abrasive, smartass New Yorker who has ticks and next to no inner-monologue. He may make you laugh because he’s weird and unabashedly so or he may annoy you because it’s too much for you to handle. Yet his plight; his search for meaning, is universal and the quality of his performance is beyond reproach, particularly when he tells the story of his search to The Renter (Max von Sydow), granted that speech is aided by great edits where L-cuts have his dialogue chase itself but his delivery is such that he hit crescendos in the right spots as if he’s doing a topping exercise with himself. He’s positively brilliant.

The performances that support his lead are fantastic as well and in many ways really take this film up a level. Firstly, there is the slew of smaller appearances by those who Oskar visits in search of answers. Their interpretations make this concept plausible and their crew is spearheaded by Viola Davis. Similarly, Tom Hanks is absolutely perfectly cast in a role where his presence needs to far exceed his screentime and he excels enormously.

On occasion there are moments, whether they be lines or readings where actors will cut straight to the heart of me, some of the more memorable instantaneously induced reactions recently would have been precipitated by Marion Cotillard pleading that she has to sing in La Vie en Rose and Asa Butterfield’s pleas when he suspects he’s really been caught in Hugo. Sandra Bullock’s assurance to her son that “Some things just don’t make sense” is what got me here, in a heartbeat. Lastly, there’s Max von Sydow who stands out even amongst many recent mute performances and has a huge impact on this film and has perhaps even more gravitas for not speaking than he would otherwise.

In his past two projects Stephen Daldry has dealt with uncomfortable and controversial subject matter and while both are very different he’s handled each about as well as one could hope. He is, and will remain, one of the few directors whose name being on a project will be all I need to know.

9/10

Everybody’s Got Stories: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and My 9/11

Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.)

I worked in 1 World Trade Center from 1999 to 2001- to September 11th, 2001 to be precise. My story about that day isn’t all that dramatic really. There are details I could divulge but suffice it to say I wasn’t on the schedule for Tuesday mornings that month. So I was not on either the 106th or 107th floor on that day, nowhere close, thank God. I thought about taking that shift when the proposed schedule came out but decided against picking up an occasional AM shift. I was juggling college and the job and Tuesday was an off day from classes and I decided to use that to rest.

Of course, we all know what happened that day and since then I’ve been fairly quiet about a number of topics that pertain to the day itself. I’ve also had varying reactions to works of art which have dealt with the attacks.

I am writing this, of course, because Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is due out soon and it’s been lambasted by some as exploitative among other things. I have yet to see the film so I cannot defend its artistic merit, however, we should look at other depictions of 9/11. One other caveat: so unimaginable and unpredictable were the attacks to me that while working there I wrote a post-apocalyptic script wherein a family eventually lived in the World Trade Center.

First, there is the tandem of fairly fact-based films World Trade Center and United 93. Neither of these films interest me in the least. I have, more times than I care to, been able to imagine, only imagine but what more can one do, what those floors looked like that day. Having worked there I get a much clearer picture than I care to so I needn’t see any dramatization thereof. The films may be fine and as propaganda-free as possible but I just have no interest. To me those smack more of exploitation for it takes actual people and focuses on the event and tried to feed on rampant patriotism to generate box office. Some see it otherwise and that’s fine but as I said I have no reason to see it.

Remember Me, which I wouldn’t have seen anyway, was your standard father-son drama and decided to use 9/11 as a twist ending rather infamously and in classless fashion.

On the flip-side Stephen King in his collection of short stories Just After Sunset deals with the tragic day in New York in two different ways. In “The Things They Left Behind” he deals with the aftermath and those lost but in “Graduation Afternoon” it comes in at the end, in the distance. It does not inundate all that preceded it and change the entire story and feel like a blatant, in-your-face exploitation. It is there, it is stunning and it affects all, but it does not compromise the tonality of the entire piece.

In Brian K. Vaughn’s brilliant comics series Ex Machina the first issue concludes with a newly-minted superhero’s biggest failure, the fact that he only saved one of the two towers. Considering the tone of the series was serious, political and a very post-9/11 story it all fit.

So the last three I enjoyed so I can take in a tale of fiction which cites something that so closely affected me. Yet it seems this film gets quite a bit of vitriol just in the “How dare you?” realm. The question of “How should art deal with 9/11?” is a valid one but it seems that was never asked for the two that try to most closely replicate it. Bastardized truthiness does not a documentary make and what function is being served there? Those are movies about 9/11 but in a bright piece of marketing Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is being labeled as being about every day after. In some ways those days were harder.

Furthermore, the word art is formed from the word artifice. It is about subterfuge. Exactitude is what a documentarian strives for but even they know there’s a gray area.

This film reminds me of some of the reading I did about Kapó before I decided to buy it. The film features perhaps the most over-analyzed shot in film history of an inmate dying in a concentration camp. It raised questions of morality in film, however, what should be moral about film? Absolute morality eliminates myriad genres. Horror is where we imagine out nightmares to try an exorcise them and horrid, immoral things are imagined and inflicted upon the people that populate those stories. What need have we of narrative morality?

Not to compare disparate tragedies but surely there was a time when the holocaust was an untouched topic. However, through the years different narrative avenues about events in and around World War II have been found, some not universally embraced, Stephen Daldry’s (the director of this very film) The Reader comes to mind.

The fact of the matter is there are events in world history that defy logical explanation and easy categorization. However, that does not stop us as human beings from exploring them and one of our biggest means of exploring is through the arts. Some say “Why make this film?” I say “Why not?”