3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
Grief is never an easy process. When the grieving person also has the challenges of Asperger’s or other relational disorders, the process is even more difficult. Unable to fully connect with others, such a person often turns in their grief to their own idiosyncratic methods to deal with their pain. This is where young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) finds himself in Stephen Daldry’s film “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and adapted for the screen by Eric Roth (Forest Gump, The Insider, The Horse Whisperer), the story is set in New York during the days following the 9-11 attack. Oskar’s father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), recognizes both the struggles and unique abilities of his son and has created “reconnaissance missions” for him to accomplish. Purposefully forcing Oskar to converse with the various inhabitants of the city to complete his missions, Thomas works to help his son develop the life skills he needs to live a fulfilling life. Oskar’s mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock), is less involved with her son and has focused on her career.
By unfortunate coincidence, Thomas has a meeting on the 104th floor of one of the towers when the attack occurs and he is taken from Oskar and Linda in a moment in time. Bereft and angry, Oskar never enters his father’s room until a year later. When he opens the closet and realizes that his mother has not discarded her husband’s things, Oskar happens upon a vase in which a mysterious key is enclosed. Deciding that this key is his father’s final mission, Oskar sets out to discover the lock it can open. With little to go on, Oskar develops an ingenious and elaborate system to solve this final mission. It is through this mission that Oskar focuses his desire to keep connected to his father and further delay the necessity to grieve. Keeping his mission a secret from his mother, he further denies his solitary pain and isolates himself from her. But it is also through this mission that he connects with the kindnesses of strangers and touches them with his earnest quest to fulfill an impossible task out of love for his father.
Also present in Oskar’s life is the doorman of his building (John Goodman), his grandmother (Zoe Caldwell) and her renter (Max Von Sydow). Their unique abilities to assist him in his journey add depth and love to the story, even as his challenges expose their own personal struggles.
Though the pain of 9-11 undoubtedly causes us to bring more emotion to this story of grief, the compassion that we feel for Oskar allows us to see grieving through new eyes. From trying to keep connected to those we lose to our ongoing desire to please the departed by the way we live, Oskar’s unique journey helps us understand ours as well. This film is a gift to all of us.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When you have said goodbye to someone you could not live without, how did you then live? How did you try to stay connected? What rooms did you avoid? What mission did you accept?
2. The relationship that Oskar has with his mother Linda is a conflicted one, as when he tells her he wishes it had been her who died. But as the film reveals, Linda understood her son far better than he realized. How often do you think a child’s conflict with one or both of their parents is based on misunderstandings? How do you think such misunderstandings can be overcome?
3. Do you believe that the families that were forever changed on 9-11 are honored by this film? Why do you answer as you do?