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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: New. Extremely Loud & Incrdibly Close

U.S.: Stephen Daldry, 2012 (Warner Bros.)
I don’t want to come across as mean and heartless here, but, though there were parts of it I liked a lot,  the movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close affected me something like a persistent urchin might — an impeccable waif with annoyingly wide Martha Keane eyes, who keeps knocking on my door, demanding more gruel.
“Look kid,” I feel like saying. “I don’t have any gruel. Maybe you’ll settle for oatmeal? Or a cracker? Better yet, try the lady next door.” Then, sure enough, ten minutes later: Knock, knock, knock. Open the door. There he is again. Sheesh! “Please sir,” he says in this awful precious nagging little voice. “Can I have some more? I’m a wonderful movie. Socially conscious. Dramatically ambitious. Literarily well-connected. Politically flawless. With an Oscar-winning cast and writer. And I’m an orphan you see, or half an orphan, and I’m walking through this big cold wounded city, emotionally scarred but terribly brave, searching, searching…“
“Searching for what?’“ I ask, feeling like a sucker. And the urchin widens his eyes even more and rears back and cries: “I’m searching for the meaning of life! And I’m searching for a connection to my poor dead father Tom Schell, played by Tom Hanks (Oscar One), who died leaping from a window of the Twin Towers on 9/11 — a horrible tragic fall that I keep showing over and over. And over.
He goes on, relentless. “And I search too for understanding — for my grieving mother, Sandra Bullock (Oscar Two). And my weird maybe-grandfather played by Max von Sydow (who’s deserved maybe seven Oscars), my grandpa who can’t talk and scribbles little notes all over the place. And my puzzled grandmother (played by Zoe Caldwell), who reads the notes. And a squabbling but compassionate couple named Mr. and Mrs. Black, played by Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright — who‘ll win Oscars some day, if there‘s any justice. I want to understand them all, and the world as well, and New York City, and the depths of my own soul: Me, played by a first time crackerjack child actor and TV genius Jeopardy champ named Thomas Horn.”
I‘m stupefied by all this, so the kid, the movie, just rambles on. “Aren’t you impressed? Just a little? I’ll tell you the meaning of life. All of us are just…just characters in an open book: in fact, we’re all in a tender but cryptic novel written by Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of “Everything is Illuminated,” and exactly the kind of serious writer, with three names, you yourself, Wilmo, keep saying the movies should use — a book now turned into a shattering, inspirational, luminous, unforgettable (if I do say so myself) movie on 9/11 and the meaning of life by director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth, a film that tenderly, cryptically examines the trauma of a child, Oskar Schell (that’s me) trying to cope with the death of his beloved father, and with the awful psychic aftermath of 9/11 — a child maybe suffering from Asperger‘s Syndrome, maybe from autism. And maybe from the traumas of my strange inability to use public transportation, or of my curious attachment to a tambourine and an Israeli gas mask, which I carry with me.” (He shakes it firmly, twice. The tambourine, then the gas mask. I think of Bob Dylan, and “Desolation Row.”)
“And, most of all,” he says, “suffused with my great quest: with my tender, cryptic determination to find and interrogate all the people named Black in all the boroughs of New York City…”
What? Why?
“ Because” he yells, in obvious frustration. “Because my father left a mysterious key in a mysterious box that mysteriously had “Black” written on it, and I am convinced that, when I finally find the right Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Ms. Black (there are 472 Blacks in the city, you know, look it up in Wikipedia), that the mysterious key will unlock a mysterious lock that will open another mysterious something-or-other, that will finally tell me whatever my poor dead father wanted me so mysteriously to know. Then there’s a surprise ending, or so I hear. SPOILER ALERT. SORRY, FALSE ALARM. So, tenderly, cryptically, I keep searching, searching, for the lock to my key….
I ruminate. The kid has quite an act, but I still didn’t like the movie. And I don’t have any gruel to spare. I hesitate. “Okay,“ I say, trying to keep the irony level down. “You — or that is, the character of the Schell son — are hunting down all the people named Black in all the boroughs of New York to discover a link with your dead father and maybe the meaning of life? On foot? With a tambourine and a gas mask? Without telling anything about this to your mother? With Ingmar Bergman’s old buddy Max scribbling along behind you?
 “My God kid, you don’t need more gruel. You need a therapist. You need a taxi driver. You need a script doctor, somebody like Ben Hecht. Seriously. By the way, weren‘t the characters in the novel Jewish? And why is your character  stopping with just the five boroughs of New York? Is he working from a Saul Steinberg cover map or something? Life has no meaning in New Jersey?”
I pause, disconcerted by my own venom. “Look, some of the family scenes — the ones with John Horn and Hanks and Sandy and Max, were really touching. And I liked…”

“No!“ he cries with terrifying urgency, extremely loud (& incredibly close). “I need gruel. I need some more! I need validation. I need a lock. I have a key. I need the meaning of life. I need the answers to all the mysterious questions every pretentiously serious novelist has searched for — tenderly, cryptically — since time immemorial.

“ I need four stars. I need Oscar nominations. And Golden Globes. Don’t give me that Descendants garbage, that Tree of Life baloney, that Midnight in Paris malarkey, that Artist bull, that George Clooney crud. They may call me Oscar-bait, but who are they, the bums? I’ve got everything a serious adult movie with a child for a protagonist could want.

“I have that great cast, topped by Horn. I have the great cinematographer Chris Menges, who shot Kes, with David Bradley. I have the gifted and highly praised director Stephen Daldry who gave us those poignantly tender, wistfully cryptic films The Hours, The Reader and Billy Elliott (with Jamie Bell). I have the highly esteemed writer Eric Roth (Oscar Three) who scripted Forrest Gump. And I have Forrest Gump himself, Tom Hanks — leaping out of that Twin Tower window on 9/11, over and over. And I have 9/11. Top that for serious.”

“Now,” says the strange urchin, extremely loud, incredibly close: “Can. I. Have. Some. More?”

I’m stumped. “Look kid. I don’t think I can help you. I gave up looking for the meaning of life, especially in New York, years ago. After they re-released Manhattan, in fact. And frankly I‘ve gotta say, speaking about movies that take you on a tour of the city — to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I really prefer Bye Bye Braverman. But who am I? Seriously, try the lady down the hall. I even think her name may be Black.

“Tell you what though. Maybe I can rustle up some gruel, or something that tastes like gruel. Here, I think I have it right here…And about those four stars, I‘ll give you half of them. How‘s that?” I hand him an oatmeal cookie. “By the way, what’s your name?”

The urchin, the movie, stares at me, disappointed. A cryptic scowl breaks over his face, as he munches away, spilling the crumbs. “I told you.“ he says. “My name is Oskar.”

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