Film Review / Four years after 9/11, Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was published. Still fresh in the wake of the tragedy, it utilizes harrowing images from the day in an inventive way, enlisting experimental typography and a flip-book of the iconic The Falling Man photo in reverse. 11 years later, director Stephen Daldry’s (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader) adaptation retains much of the heartbreak, less of the inventiveness, but all of the frustrations.
Thomas Horn plays the precocious child, Oskar. With no acting experience, Horn was sought by producers after seeing him on Jeopardy! Kids Week in 2010, where he took home $31,800. On the big screen, he’s fantastic as the instantly likeable lead who easily coaxes sympathy. A candidate for Asperger’s Syndrome, Oskar has innumerable quirks–a laundry list of irrational fears and social anxieties–paired with jittery speech riddled with diction beyond his years. He is the perfect image of a vulnerable and innocent child, which makes it all the more difficult to watch anything harmful happen to him.
Thomas Schell Jr., played by America’s quintessential dad-figure Tom Hanks, appears in warm and fuzzy flashbacks where he creates elaborate scavenger hunts to help his son face his fears. Upon his father’s death, Oskar finds a key labeled “Black” hidden in Thomas’s closet and hyper-methodically scours the five burroughs looking for what it could open, thinking his father had one last message for him. He begins his search by interviewing every person in NYC named “Black.” Oskar later enlists the help of a mysterious and silent tenant staying at his grandmother’s apartment across the street, who’s known by no other name than the “Renter” (Max von Sydow, Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor in this role).
Foer’s novel contains an intricate weave of narratives where apologetic letters from Oskar’s grandfather to his son serve as an important break from Oskar’s methodical and restlessly inquisitive mind. However, the film stays inside the head of a caffeinated nine-year-old child who is a merciless wellspring of unrelated facts and irrational fears which give rise to impassioned rants that become increasingly hard to endure. During one scene where Oskar screams while completely trashing his room, I caught myself thinking, “Wait, didn’t he just do that in the kitchen?” When an absurd and painful act meets the face of pure innocence, the resulting outcry is nearly unbearable, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close lives on the fringes of bearable for its repeated use of such outcries.