Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Review

poster from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I don’t like having expectations of movies because I’m almost always disappointed. Hugo was such a letdown that when I saw the trailer for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I actively tried not to expect it to be good, since so many “real” critics were falling all over themselves to praise it (the “real” critics and I rarely agree). This was difficult, because it was directed by the same guy (Stephen Daldry) who did Billy Elliot (which I love), because the kid in it is extremely cute, and because there was just something sweet about it.

A year after his father is killed in the World Trade Center, a nine-year old boy find a key his dad’s closet and searches New York City for the lock it fits, hoping to find a message.

Grief-and-grieving movies are frequently awkward, slow, and/or weird, but I saw Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and I was moved to tears by it. However, I should mention that the friend I was with thought it was stupid. I’ve thought about it and came to the conclusion that whether or not you like this movie will be determined by your ability to connect with the character of Oskar Schell.


Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) reminds me a lot of me when I was a kid. He’s afraid of everything, including public transit, loud noises, swings, elevators, and bridges (I used to be convinced the house was going to burn down). He’s book smart but he has trouble talking to people, and he craves adventure to the point where he’ll make one out of just about anything (I used to put “an adventure” on my Christmas list every year).

Oskar goes on an adventure from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I did not, however, carry a tambourine around as a kid (I preferred the oboe)

Sounds cute, right? Well, Oskar is also bossy, rude, almost completely lacking in tact, and says awful things to his mother when he’s upset. These bratty moments, I think, are what turned off my friend, but I could understand them in context. Oskar’s dad (Tom Hanks) was the one who really “got” Oskar. He would make up fun lies, like that New York City once had a sixth borough that floated away, which prompt Oskar to go on adventures and force him to talk to people in order to solve the mystery.

Oskar and his dad from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I can identify with this also, as my dad once told me there was a secret passage
in our house and I spent several years looking for it.

Unfortunately for Oskar, his father is inside the World Trade Center during the September 11th attacks and his world crumbles along with the towers. Oskar is now more scared to go outside than ever because, as he puts it, “people who don’t even know you might try to kill you.”

Oskar wearing his gas mask from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Perhaps we should propaganda-bomb the terrorist training camps with copies
of this movie. LOOK AT HIS SAD PUPPY EYES!!

Tragedy often has the affect of driving apart the people affected by it at a time when they most need each other’s support so after a year of drifting further and further away from his mom (Sandra Bullock), he finds a key hidden in a vase in his father’s closet that he believes is the beginning of an adventure his father set up for him. He’s desperate to reconnect with his father, so even though his only starting clue is the name Black, he takes it upon himself to visit every Black in the five boroughs looking for the lock that matches the key.

some of the Blacks Oskar meets from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

As you might expect, there are a lot of people named Black in a city of 8 million.

Poor Oskar is so lonely that if not for the people he meets on his adventure, he might not have any human contact at all. Luckily, almost every Black he meets has something to teach or to tell him, even if they can’t help him with the mystery of the key.

Oskar visits the memorial wall from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It’s hard to turn away a puppy-eyed little boy with a dad killed in 9/11, even if he is nosy.

During his adventure he also befriends the mute old man (Max von Sydow) who is renting the room in his grandmother’s apartment across the street. Though Oskar knows him only as The Renter and they can communicate only through notes, Oskar adopts him as a father figure to fill in the hole left by his dad’s death.

Oskar and The Renter from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

And no, the old man is neither random or creepy, though he seems it in the photos.

I thought perhaps the movie would abandon the key mystery in favor of teaching Oskar some lesson, like Hugo did, but I was relieved to find out that we get both emotional resolution for Oskar AND an answer to the mystery about the key. I won’t tell you what happens in the end, but I will tell you that it is very satisfying. You might see this movie described as “feel good,” but I won’t lie to you – it’s mostly sad except for the end.

Oskar and his mother from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

There are a lot of “awwww” moments, however.

So would I recommend it to you? That depends on who you are. I like it because it explores a little-mentioned aspect of 9/11, focusing on how families cope instead of how heroic firemen are or how evil terrorists are or how the landscape of conflict changed in that moment. I also like it because I identify with Oskar and because I don’t mind watching two hours of sadness if there’s ten minutes of happiness at the end. However, if sadness is too sad for you or if you are annoyed by overly blunt children, you probably won’t like it. I’ll leave the decision up to you.

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