homepage logo

It is time for ‘Extremely Loud’

By Staff | Jan 25, 2012

How long did it take until W.Va. stateholders consented to a major motion picture regarding the tragic Marshall University plane crash that occurred in 1970? More than 35 years later, “We Are Marshall” had an impact on many members of the Marshall community who are still grieving. The film allowed us to not forget but finally to heal, accepting the disaster, expressing emotion, and the community took a giant step forward in a massive group hug.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” concerns the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Its focus shines on a grieving nine-year-old boy, Oskar, played by Thomas Horn and his distraught mom Linda, played by Sandra Bullock. Regrets abound, specifically for the boy who was released early from school and remains haunted by messages left on an answering machine. He does not want to let go of his father’s memory (played by Tom Hanks), so a broken vase revealing an unknown key to an unknown lock becomes the amateur detective’s mission in honor of his dad.

Setting him on a reconnaissance mission around NYC, like looking for a needle in a haystack, the project rekindles memories of his father. He’s expecting a “reward” and closure at rainbow’s end by opening that door.

Questions of grief, why me, and terrorism surface. The boy tells mom not to bury him in the ground but to take his body to a mausoleum. His decision comes after an eerie description of having the dead in a huge “skyscraper” underground where survivors can go visit them.

Before complaining or judging a film about the attacks, you must first watch it. Adapted by Eric (“Forrest Gump”) Roth, it’s not a news recap, neither is it a dramatized disaster genre. No, the towers have already crumbled. This is about two family members struggling to move beyond the worst day and reconnect with life. They represent the universe of those coping with trauma and stumbling, struggling, and miraculously forging ways to move on.

“We Are Marshall” and “Extremely Loud” both had early cries of protest about making a relatively fictional movie about an actual tragedy. Judging from Internet response, many viewers have complained about weaving fictional characters around the towers, just as some Herd supporters worried that McG and crew would not treat the air tragedy source material respectfully. McG kept his promise, even prevailing when a would-be money-saving counterpart wanted to skip the fountain finale. The director stood emphatically for his vision; he won the creative battle and the scene became symbolic of honoring the past and moving forward.

Although only ten years have passed since the terrorist attacks, one survivor had the courage and vision to counter the criticism: “Not everything about 9/11 has to be wholly sacred. People died in it and other people were affected. That’s what the book is about. I actually had loved ones lost on 9/11 and I agree that it is time to move on. There is no point in negatively dwelling upon it, it’s not like they are making fun of it in any way.”

McG encountered a similar argument when adding fictional ‘composite’ characters as representative of large groups. However, no drama could be made that accurately encompasses all that happened in a two hour time frame. The composites allowed creative license while preserving privacy from intimate details. The same broad concept applies to “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”

Recalling interviews with “We Are Marshall” filmmakers (and others), the greatest word from that generation was a severe invasion of their sense of security due to the attack on the homeland. These fears led to the implementation – agree or disagree – of George Bush’s policies (Patriot Act, Homeland Security) that curtailed freedoms in exchange for protection. It also led to ten years of war in the Middle East.

For that reason, the intimacy of the 9/11 production easily broadens from the one family losing their husband and father when the planes crashed into the towers to a sense of similar occurrences in the homes of each of the 3,000 victims. Beyond the immediate causalities, each family who lost a loved one during the wars suffered in an equal way. Those returning veterans – many with physical or emotional scars – suffer, also.

Returning to the film’s scenario, prior to his father’s death, Oskar had a genius intellectual capacity yet endured self-confidence and marauding fear challenges, such as swings, bridges and interacting with people. After the worst day, his list includes elevators, subways, buses, high rise buildings, loud noise and onward to infinity.

Thomas Horn, now 14, had only acted in a grade school play and appeared on “Jeopardy,” yet he delivers an incredible performance yanking us into his head and body and walking along the lonely boroughs of New York on a quest that keeps him functioning. Some call him selfish and spoiled. I call him crushed, grieving, traumatized and punishing himself. Bravo that he finds others practicing unconditional love along his journey.

Max Von Sydow’s character accompanies Oskar on his mission. Labeled a tenant (when actually a relative), Von Sydow’s performance as a mute victim of early life tragedies transforms from grouchy to expert teacher. Once understanding the boy’s journey, Von Sydow’s written phrases motivate his grandson to remain resolute and to continue confronting his fears.

Bullock must epitomize surface strength and visual emotional solidarity which her private times betray. Even as the distance increases between mom and son, she must be a rock or face the loss of a second casualty from the worst day.

Although Roth and director Stephen (“The Reader,” “The Hours”) Daldry remove the slight ambiguity of the original novel, the film retains the precise symbolism for applying the message to all hurting people in the world. Further, it resoundingly implores the openness and importance of a three-word phrase (“I love you”) that had often only been implied or whispered in routine.

Screenwriter Roth has repeated his gift for warming empathy towards those with imperfections that seemingly do not deserve redemption.