A gut-wrenching, yet heartfelt story of a young boy struggling to come to terms with his father's death, Daldry's portrayal of Oskar's quest for the truth whilst overcoming his own difficulties with human interaction is honest and original.
Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (based on a book of the same name written by Jonathan Safran Foer) follows the journey of young Oskar Schnell (Thomas Horn), as he struggles to accept the death of his father during the 9/11 attack. This is a rocky emotional journey, especially for Oskar, who is somewhere along the Autistic spectrum, meaning that he has trouble communicating with others. In a state of grieving, this becomes almost unbearable for him. Personally, I don’t understand the 46% rating given by Rotten Tomatoes and also by Metacritic, as the film encapsulated a brilliant and honest portrayal of subjective truth and I believe it deserves higher praise.
The non-linear narrative (through Oskar’s memory) gives the audience a real insight into how Oskar’s father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), helped to support his son, who was different to other children. A very positive portrayal of Thomas and Oskar’s relationship is given; the perfect parent for his autistic son. Thomas creates multiple expeditions for Oskar, ensuring that he must talk to all the people that he comes across – “Dad designed my expedition so that I had to talk to people.” He does not wish for his son to change or be ‘cured’, he instead is instilling coping mechanisms for the things Oskar struggles with whilst engaging the young boy’s constant thirst for knowledge for the answers to all his questions.
However, it was Oskar’s relationship with his mother (Sandra Bullock) that really strikes a chord. Daldry’s use of physical objects that created a barrier between mother and son really helped to communicate clearly the struggle that both Oskar and his mother, Linda, were having because of his difficulty in communicating. On more than one occasion there is a door between them, being cheek to cheek, desperately trying to connect so they can grieve the loss of Thomas together, but not being able to touch.
Daldry’s repeated use of close ups and point of view shots also showed Oskar’s struggle in a new light. We were behind his eyes, in a place of understanding as to why he was scared to do certain things. The montage sequence in which Oskar gives a hectic narration into everything he is scared of was really overwhelming to see and hear, mimicking exactly how overwhelmed he feels, especially since his father’s death. He’s now scared of planes, trains, bags that are left unattended – reflecting how the terrorist threat effected someone who already can’t help but to overthink all things. Sympathy is created for Oskar through his struggle to have fun like other children. When he father swings on the playground, remembering nostalgic childhood bliss, a close up point of view shot zooms the hinges holding the swing in place – Oskar is only thinking of one thing, the danger of the swing.
This small, slice of the narrative provides a very meaningful and satisfying ending. Despite Oskar not finding what he wanted with the key he found in his father’s closet, he instead achieved something much more important. He was able to swing in the playground, to overcome something he had been struggling with. The camera swings with him. We were along for the ride in his struggle and are also along for the ride when he reaches a sense of clarity.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011), directed by Stephen Daldry, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros., certificate 12a.