Monday, January 30, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE        C                    
USA  (129 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  Stephen Daldry        Official site

The post 9/11 movies worth considering are Spike Lee’s 25th HOUR (2002), Paul Greengrass’s UNITED 93 (2006), Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret (2011), also the video of Paul Simon singing Sounds of Silence at the 10-year Memorial Event  Paul Simon's Heartbreaking 'Sound of Silence' at Ground Zero ..., - - and that’s it.  You can forget the rest, which don’t so much examine the consequences as manipulate the viewer with plenty of tearful guilt that is really insignificant filmmaking, basically telling the viewer what they already know about losing someone, reminding us in many different ways just how bad it feels.  According to an interview with actress Sandra Bullock (The Cast Of 'Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close' Talk Navigating ...), “I think a lot of people haven’t been able to grieve.”  Just who are these people, and are they the same undecided voters who can’t make up their minds until they walk into a polling booth?  There have been endless discussions, news reports, magazine articles, radio chat sessions, online essays and personal recollections, fragmented memories, tributes, memorials, photos and video reminders, not to mention endless merchandising of the event, so certainly there has been time to process the event.  What we haven’t had before, which this film provides, is a child’s perspective, where despite the gravity of the event, this is almost exclusively viewed through the eyes of a child—not just any child, mind you, but a borderline autistic child whose brilliance is only overridden by his meticulously obsessive nature, where he views the world through a catalog file system that is nearly perfectly mathematically arranged.  In this way, the writers are allowed to paint with a broader brush, as this isn’t really a child so much as an overly mature young adult, but also one for which there is always a logical expression, where his brain continues to compute until everything makes sense, where the events of 9/11, of course, send the faculties of his brain into utter turmoil, where the computer does not compute and literally goes haywire.  

Despite an utterly maudlin story that tearfully shows a brilliant and highly sensitive 11-year old boy Oskar (Thomas Horn), with few social skills, on a journey through the streets of New York to find the connection between the father he lost on 9/11 and a mysterious key he found in his father’s belongings in an envelope identified only by the name “Black.”  In his mad rush to make sense of it all, he organizes everything with meticulous detail, like inventing a Dewey Decimal system for tracking down all the families named Black in the entire city, cataloging their addresses, where if he contacts each of them on foot only on weekends, taking no weekends off, he figures it will take him three years to complete his project.  Initially allotting 6 minutes per visit, he soon discovers that people offer him sympathy and hugs, have their own stories to tell, which takes considerably more time.  And while he enjoys the collective efforts to connect with him and offer some degree of comfort and friendship, snapping photos of those he meets along the way which he places in a scrapbook, all he really wants is to find out what the hell the key opens.  While the diverse population he encounters does resemble a portrait of those that lost their lives on that day, only two really stand out.  The first is Viola Davis as Abby Black, perhaps the first one visited, where Oskar bursts into her apartment with the subtlety of a blitzkrieg, forced to endure his non-stop, incessant chatter while already moved to tears by the impending separation with her husband who’s about to walk out the door, where she simply hasn’t the strength to send him on his way, so she endures both events happening simultaneously.  The other is an old and feeble man who can’t speak (Max von Sydow representing the unspoken voice of the dead), who may be his grandfather, though he claims to be a renter in his grandmother’s apartment, where he’s forced to write hand written notes for Oskar to understand.  Oskar asks him to tag along on his visits, which turn into carefully choreographed mime routines.     

Oskar runs everywhere he goes, never tiring, blurting out words like tiny explosions, where occasionally he tries to use his words to outrun his thoughts, where in his excitement the adrenaline takes over, creating a frenzied rush of near panic as he continually relives the events of that fateful day, telling perfect strangers what happened to him on 9/11.  Well how do you expect people to react?  As the film is a recording of his journey, we hear Oskar recall what happened to him over a dozen times, each one adding a significant detail left out of the last version, where the sum accumulation loses any hint of subtlety and starts pounding into your skull like a sledgehammer, where this literally becomes overkill.  Forcing the audience to re-live 9/11 over and over again in a movie theater through the repeated exploits of an overeager but delicate child is not exactly great theater, as we re-live the photos and the news reports and Oskar’s own personal recollections, all of which has some cathartic quality, one assumes, except that for many it doesn’t.  One’s reaction to a nationwide catastrophe is much too intimately personal, where none of us match the weird and eccentric personality traits of this overly precocious kid, nice as he may otherwise be, but he’s not us and he can’t be made to stand for us.  He’s who he is and he makes it understandable by making a child’s pop-up scrapbook of photos and memories, which he calls by the movie title, taking something that’s messy and condensing it all into something nice and neat and clean.  Unfortunately, there are many who survive the horrors of war, incest, rape, torture, the Holocaust, or Japanese-American internment camps, and can never utter a word about their experiences to their respective families.  For those many individuals who don’t believe America’s collective sentiment can be neatly compartmentalized or rolled into one and the same experience, this movie is something of a disgrace.  As a children’s story, this may have more value due to the originality of the child’s-eye view, but there are few kids who can identify with his bizarre personality, where as he ages, he’s only going to become more and more of a social outcast, and that has nothing to do with 9/11, but the reality of his psychological condition.  So while the film plays to a populist theme, it’s another example of oversimplification, ultimately little more than merchandising trauma. 

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