Defending “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

There is a moment one hour and forty-three minutes into Stephen Daldry’s film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that I think turned many people off – critics and the public alike — to this well-intentioned, thoughtful, and engaging film. Young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is playing the six voicemail messages his loving father (Tom Hanks) left for his family while trapped inside the World Trade Center on the tragic morning of September 11, 2001. Oskar has kept these messages for himself and hides them in his bedroom closet. It is all that he has left from what he calls “The worst day.” He plays Message #6. We hear the muffled and inhibited voice of Mr. Hanks repeat the question, “Are you there?” “Are you there?” The message then, abruptly cuts off. The camera, tight on Oskar, then immediately pans to a television showing the North Tower implode and fall to the ground. It is a heart-wrenching moment – and an image that has stuck with me since seeing the “Best Picture” nominee. And I’m sure exactly what Mr. Daldry’s intentions were for this carefully choreographed scene.

I know many resented and were outraged by the fact that “Extremely Loud” was even nominated for the top Oscar prize. I’m not exactly sure why. I personally did not place the film in my own Top 10 of the year, but I did it give a strong 3-star rating. Did people feel that the movie manipulated our feelings? My answer to that is, “Well, doesn’t every film do just that?” I have heard from others that they felt that the novel by the very talented author Jonathan Safran Foer (which is the source material that the movie is based on) took a very tragic event and simply “cashed in” on the misery of others. I could not disagree more. I read the book. I enjoyed it very much. To me, it was just one small (and at times, magical) story to stem from one horrific event that affected thousands…millions of people in many ways. I don’t think Foer was trying to capitalize on anything and, in reading the novel, I never felt that the author was being disrespectful in any way.

My question is — Are people so touchy about 9/11 that any piece of art that is inspired by it (songs, books, photography, film, poetry, etc.) is frowned upon with utter contempt? I know numerous television specials and documentaries that have been aired about that fateful morning. I walk through Barnes and Noble and see dozens upon dozens of books on the subject. Are all of these authors just greedy and trying to exploit the feelings and lives of others who have suffered? I choose not to think that. In the same manner, I choose not to think that the U.K.-born Daldry – and everyone involved with the making of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close were taking advantage of America’s misfortunes. It’s a simple father-and-son story…gentle and unique and poignant. Everyone gets so outraged so easily and we’re all so politically correct…honestly, it’s quite nauseating. Perhaps Foer wrote this as his own homage to those affected by 9/11 and his intentions here were nothing but genuine. I choose to think that. I also choose to believe that Mr. Daldry sought to create a film that would move everyone who saw it in a positive and inspiring way. For those who are offended by the movie, I would simply say that there are so many other things in this world to be offended by….this movie is should be the least of your worries.

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7 Responses to Defending “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

  1. Pingback: Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close « M-EDIA

  2. Paul says:

    I also enjoyed this movie. I don’t know if I would have watched if it was not nominated for Best Picture, but I ended up watching alone one night after my wife went to bed. She didn’t want to see it at all. The next day I made her watch it with me and she was pleased that she did. I think some movies should be watched even if they are painful. I postpones Sophie’s Choice for years, but decided it was time and came out a better person for it. It was the same with Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close. Thanks again.

    • I think a lot of people were simply tuned off by the subject matter. Understood, but the movie didn’t hit you over the head with 9/11 – but served as a backdrop of the plot. I am glad you got your wife to watch it and thrilled to hear that she was happy to sit through it. Some of my favorite films are difficult to watch and tough to sit through…I need to be in a certain mindset to watch them. Schindler’s List, Raging Bull, come to mind. I was happy to see Extremely Loud — and thought it was a charming and uplifting film. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. I was reluctant to see this movie but watched it last night on HBO on demand. It completely engaged me. On one level I thought it was a love letter to New York City. Visually, the movie hooked me when the camera focused on the tile work in the hallway outside Oscar’s apartment – so many beautiful details that can be found in a wonderful city. On another level it was about the details of individuality and quirks of personality that can be resources of creativity just on the edge of lunacy. On another level it was about the inadequacy of normality to deal with overwhelming senseless tragedy – what would be a “normal” response? I thought it was respectful, insightful and creative – with a great cast. I’m glad I finally watched it.

    • Michael – thanks for taking the time to comment. I am glad you decided to watch it and even more glad that you enjoyed it. The point about NYC is very true and I hadn’t thought of that. We are also in agreement that the work is done with respect and insight. Curious why you may have been reluctant to see it at first…

  4. Ryan McNeil says:

    Strong piece you’ve put together here.
    For what it’s worth, most of the people I talked to about it who seemed appalled by it trying to be “A 9/11 Movie” didn’t see it, and didn’t care to.

    It might not be a best Picture nominee…but it’s not the puddle of syrup that many would have you believe it is either.

    • Thank you Ryan. I think you’re right – most people who were offended by the film probably did not even bother seeing it (much like the people who were “offended” and outraged by The Last Temptation of Christ before it even came out). I agree with you — I didn’t find the movie to be overly-sentimental or manipulative in any way. I can understand if one said that he/she didn’t want to see because it seemed too sad and that’s not their thing…but to suggest that the project is exploiting the tragedy is a reckless accusation. A strong movie, I think. And I love von Sydow! Thanks again.

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