Horn plays Oskar Schell, a boy with borderline Asperger’s Syndrome who loses his father in the attack on the World Trade Center.
Oskar devises a treasure hunt to stay connected with his dad. Along the way he meets a wordless man known as the Renter (von Sydow), who stays at the apartment of Oskar’s grandmother (Zoe Caldwell).
Daldry discovered Horn on Jeopardy! Kids Week. Horn is perfect as the brilliant, intense and anxious 11-year-old.
Sharing a 9/11 story
Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet in an envelope with the name “Black” on it. He plans a mission to survey hundreds of people in the five boroughs named Black. Someone will know his father and show him what the key opens.
Fearing he will never solve the mystery, Oskar is greeted with love and concern by almost everyone on his list.
Oskar doesn’t have “normal” social graces, but he is all heart and earnest determination. Those with a bit of childlike innocence can relate when he knocks on their doors.
The boy keeps notebooks, maps, and a secret shrine to his dad. He also has preserved his dad’s six phone messages from September 11, 2001. He carries a tambourine to soothe his nerves.
Out of guilt, Oskar begins to harm himself. His anxiety and frantic search may make you uncomfortable.
Von Sydow, Hanks and Bullock shine
Von Sydow is incredible as a mute old man who communicates via a tiny notepad, facial expressions and whimsical shrugs. It seems that he lived through the Holocaust. As a trauma survivor, he is a good listener. He becomes a guardian angel for fearful, determined Oskar.
Tom Hanks appears in flashbacks as Oskar’s dad. Thomas Schell and his son shared a lively rapport. Thomas devises puzzles and outings to help Oskar connect with others and feel safe. Hanks is exceptional, and his presence is felt even when he’s not onscreen.
Oskar’s mom (Sandra Bullock) is more anxious and distant from her special needs son, especially after her husband dies. Bullock is terrific as a traumatized wife. She reaches out to Oskar every day until he is able to receive her love.
Troubled couple touched by visitor
The first person Oskar meets is Abby Black (fantastic Viola Davis), a tearful woman whose husband (Jeffrey Wright, outstanding) is leaving her. Abby gives Oskar a picture of an elephant. Elephants have feelings, they decide, even though they do not cry as humans do.
Forgiveness is key
Forgiveness is the key to the story. New York City residents are shown coming to terms with loss in the days after 9/11, and years later. This adds depth to Oskar’s mission. The image of a man falling in slow motion to his death from the World Trade Center may upset many.
There is a natural end to the movie, a crescendo of understanding and connection created by Horn and von Sydow. Daldry keeps filming with sentimental over-explanation. This diminishes the power of the film.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close got me thinking about autism. Author William Stillman believes that some with this condition have acute spiritual sensitivity. In The Autism Prophecies, he quotes an autistic boy named Fred: “God gave us these sensitivities to show how nature is in distress. He wants us people to slow down.”
“Wouldn’t it be the most delicious of ironies,” Stillman writes, “if those persons our society deems most severely impaired are actually among the keepers of keen insight and aesthetic awareness.” (4 out of 5 stars)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 2011 / PG-13 / 2 hours, 9 min
Cast Overview: Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Zoe Caldwell, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, John Goodman
Director: Stephen Daldry
Genre: Drama, Family