Years ago a teacher of mine remarked how important keys are in our culture. Keys give us entry into our home, keep us in tune when we sing and who hasn’t heard the saying “the key to my heart.”
So the story goes with Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a film directed by Stephen Daldry. Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is what we call a “9/11 child.” He lost his father (Tom Hanks) during the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Oskar has found a key hidden by his father. Spurred on by the many adventures & expeditions led by his father, Oskar is convinced that finding the lock to this key will somehow bring him closer to his father.
Oskar’s mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) has been so devastated by her husband’s death that she seems absent completely from Oskar’s life. His grandmother (Zoe Caldwell), who lives across the street, is usually available by walkie-talkie and is a very important presence in his life. Oskar plans his expedition to find the mystery of the key with precision, his only clue: the name Black. So off he goes every Saturday, searching for every “Black” in the phone book to hopefully solve the mystery.
But even his expeditions, don’t keep his mind off the mark 9/11 has left on him. He has also kept a secret from everyone, and this secret is seriously causing him problems. Not long into his search his grandmother takes in a secret border, an older man that is unable to speak (Max von Sydow). This young boy and this older man, both traumatized my events in their lives continue the search for the mystery of the key. What will this search turn up? Will Oskar feel closer to his father? And will Oskar finally tell the secret he is so terrified to tell?
All of the performances are well done. Thomas Horn is magnificent as Oskar. This is his film and he portrays Oskar masterfully to the point that he becomes Oskar. Sandra Bullock is also very well cast as Oskar’s mother. This film proves that Sandra’s Academy Award® win was not a fluke and that she is a very capable in any film. Tom Hanks has a very small role as the father, as his scenes are all in flashbacks. And Max von Sydow is just incredible as the grandfather that cannot speak, yet has much to say.
Although Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close stars a child, this is not a children’s film. The horrors of 9/11 are chronicled in the film through flashbacks and this film could be disturbing to young children and/or 9/11 survivors. And this film doesn’t derive any great meaning to me. In fact, there are a few points in the film I take great issue with, to the point that I think that the script of this film shows flagrant disregard for those that have experience traumatic events and borders on irresponsible filmmaking.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has just received a few Oscar® nominations, and thus it may get more of an audience. Knowing most film lovers and Oscar® watchers will add this to their list of films to watch before the big awards night, I suggest you proceed with caution.
Click here to see the list of Oscar® nomiated films: Oscar Nominations
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language and has a runtime of 2 hours and 9 minutes.
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Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones & no texting, please don’t talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don’t forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
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-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films; see her work on SilentHollywood.com®