Yes, he's quirky. But most of us are. Is it really that hard to imagine an 11 year old being afraid of the NYC subway? Or being afraid of going on a swing? Or being afraid of strangers? Or having a hard time talking to other people? There are people in their twenties who find it hard to have a conversation with a stranger. Do all of these people have Asperger's? No.
"But he's OCD!"
Grief can trigger OCD.
"He throws tantrums!"
All of us do. Especially when you're grieving and you don't know how to deal with it.
Here I'm making a lot of allowances for Oskar's behavior. That's because I'm going to spend the rest of the time tearing it to shreds. Because I don't think there's really any excuse for Oskar being such a little bitch.
Director: Stephen Daldry
THE MAIN CHARACTER AND STAR OF EVERYTHING: Thomas Horn
Oskar's pandering father: Tom Hanks
Oskar's pandering mother: Sandra Bullock
Oskar's equally selfish grandfather: Max von Sydow
Oskar's mostly absent grandmother: Zoe Caldwell
Receives a lesson on the crying abilities of elephants: Viola Davis
Davis's husband, works in a building that could be from 2001: A Space Odyssey: Jeffrey Wright
Plays the often inconspicuous doorman: John Goodman
Have you ever considered yourself "The Main Character"? How could you not. In your life, everything revolves around you. Your decisions matter. You're affecting and effected. When we watch a movie or read a book we're asked to, most of the time, identify with a single main character. And the relationship with art is such that we use movies and books as foils for our own lives. Are we similar to that character? Are we different? Do you want to be more like that character? Or less like the character? Movies and books inform the way we live. And if movies and books imitate life, can't life imitate a movie or a book? Don't we try to imitate what we see from movies or books? If movies and books have a main character, doesn't life? Who other than you would be the main character of your life?
Hopefully, at some point, you understand that EVERYONE views himself or herself as the main character. So you think of your best friend as the Best Supporting Actor or Actress in your life. But in their life, you're in the support role, he or she is the star.
If you think the girl serving you at Subway is an extra in your life, here's a revelation. To that girl, YOU are an extra in their life. While you consider it of dire importance that you have six tomatoes on your sub, Subway Girl has been yelled at by the boss that FOUR tomatoes is the new maximum. A struggle ensues. You're the hero, you should get what you want. Subway Girl is also the hero, she should get what she wants (not to be yelled at by her boss). Yadda yadda.
When you understand your place in the world--that there are 7 BILLION main characters on the planet Earth--you begin to understand how insignificant your problems are.
"YOU ONLY GAVE ME FOUR TOMATOES!!!!!!"
Somewhere a girl is being raped.
Shut the fuck up about tomatoes.
This is why I find Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close insufferable.
Yes, losing someone is awful. Yes, Oskar has a right to his grief. But can you blame me for hating a movie where the main character spends two-hours in pursuit of the catharsis of his grief at the expense of everyone else? I felt like I was watching someone trying to unsuccessfully open a door. It's the kind of door you use to enter into a bank, or a school, or most public venues. You either push or pull. Except this person is ONLY pushing. And you're watching them. You've paid to watch them. And you keep thinking: just PULL. FUCKING PULL THE DOOR. But they don't pull the door. Instead they whine, yell at people, make a spectacle, kick the door, punch the door, jiggle a tambourine, and make their mom feel like shit when she walks up to help, before she can even offer her help.
When Oskar finally connects with his mom, finally recognizes that she too misses his dad, that she's been hurting, that she cares about him, Oskar, it wasn't a nice moment for me. Okay, yes, it's a nice moment. But the film's payoff is "Oskar goes from being a dick and acting out" to "connecting with his mom". It's not like he and his mom had a bad history. It's not like his mom treated him terribly. It's not like external forces were separating them. The hurdle Oskar and his mom had to overcome was Oskar. And that's not appealing to me.
We can argue that the hurdle actually is the Ghost of Oskar's Father. That Oskar's grief prevented him from connecting with his mom. We can also argue that he's eleven. I want this kid to handle his grief better, but he's eleven, he isn't as equipped to cope as, say, a high school kid, or someone of college age or older. But that doesn't mean I want to watch it. The understanding and compassion I'd have for an actual eleven year old does not extend to a movie character.
The movie permits the attitude of the "I'm the main character, I'm more important than you". The impact of 9/11 is rarely shown beyond Oskar. Which, okay, it's fine to narrow the plot down. The movie doesn't HAVE to show the impact of 9/11 beyond Oskar. But by choosing not to do this, the movie emphasizes Oskar's grief. Yes, we don't need a movie to tell us 9/11 destroyed a lot of lives--while watching, we know Oskar wasn't the only one affected. But did EVERYONE react to the death of a parent the way Oskar does? Doubtful. The movie could have had Oskar encounter many other children who had lost a parent(s)/sibling(s)/grandparent(s) in 9/11 and LEARNED something about grief. (I make the same case for the source material).
Instead it validates his way of coping by having him find the key's owner, by the key having the significance for its true owner that Oskar had so hoped it would have for him (so his journey was worthwhile because it helped someone), by him reuniting a divorced husband and wife. His actions are reinforced. Which means the movie says it's okay and natural to physically harm yourself, to become obsessive to the point where you risk your life (wandering, alone, all over the Five Boroughs), to wake-up your grandma at all hours of the night because you're needy, to force yourself upon people because what's important to you is more important than what they want (albeit, this isn't really fair because nearly everyone helps Oskar because they want to help Oskar, but, still, that doesn't excuse the fact that he rings a doorbell 36 times or reacts like a brat when people don't want to help), that parents should let their child throw destructive tantrums, that parents should enable every idea the child has without ever imparting any wisdom whatsoever.
Likewise, in The Renter, played by Max von Sydow, we have someone who has dealt with grief in a unique way that makes everyone else cater to them. The Renter doesn't talk because he's decided not to. HOW SAD. All because he was in Dresden (a victim of the firebombs that Kurt Vonnegut was actually a victim of). And there was a firebomb and he lost both of his parents. Would his parents want him to never speak again? Is he making them proud? Look at the behavior of this man. He knocks up Oskar's grandmother, decides he's not ready to be a father and runs away. He didn't think of the grandmother. He didn't think of the child. He was selfish. And then he decides to not speak (or maybe he was already not speaking). That's also selfish and self-pitying. He's the one person that doesn't enable Oskar. He helps Oskar learn to ride the subway. He helps Oskar learn to cross the bridge. But he refuses to talk. He refuses to show Oskar that you can OVERCOME YOUR OWN GRIEF IN ORDER TO HELP SOMEONE ELSE WHEN THEY NEED IT. When Oskar wants to share with him his big secret, the voicemail messages his father had left him, The Renter doesn't want to hear them. Yeah, that's an awful thing to listen to. But it's also because Oskar's father is The Renter's son. The Renter doesn't want to hear his son dying. That makes sense. But he's also denying Oskar the sympathy and forgiveness he so desires, so must later claim from a total stranger. Why? Because The Renter can't set aside his own grief. The scene--where Oskar is playing the messages for The Renter--is the ultimate battle of "I'm the main character and I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS EVEN THOUGH IT WILL HELP YOU SO I'M GOING TO GET WHAT I WANT." Oskar refuses to stop playing the messages. The Renter refuses to listen.
What happens next? The Renter leaves. And Oskar chases him off with some verbal umbrage. The two are, again, being selfish and not recognizing how their selfishness is impacting others. The Renter says he's doing more harm than good, but that's an excuse. He was doing a lot of good. He just couldn't face the fact he abandoned his son (Oskar's father). Oskar knows The Renter is his grandfather but doesn't comprehend how much it could hurt him, The Renter, to hear his son minutes before he died.
Again, Oskar is eleven, so in this battle, The Renter should have been the bigger person. And that's my problem with this movie. There's a lack of communication.
I mean, the climax of the movie, where we finally hear the sixth message, is the revelation that Oskar failed to answer the phone when his father called. Lack of communication is a theme of the film. Which is understandable because it's also one of the things that sucks about someone dying. You can't communicate with that person anymore. Not how you once did. Instead you do what Oskar and his mom do after the climax: TALK TO EACH OTHER ABOUT THE PERSON. They share their grief. What they miss about Thomas Schell. etc. etc. Oskar then thanks those he spoke with by sending them all a letter that provides them with the conclusion of his hunt. So it's nice that we begin to see signs of external communication. But The Renter never speaks. He and Oskar don't reconcile. Oskar doesn't tell his mom about the messages from his father (but she may already know since she knew all about his hunt for Key Master) (but if she did know WHY DIDN'T SHE TELL HIM SHE KNEW ABOUT THE MESSAGES?? Why did he have to bear that burden alone?).
The film never really opens up about the wake of 9/11 (again, it doesn't have to). We have one scene where Jeffrey Wright is trying to hang-up fliers and passes the Missing Persons Wall where families had up fliers with pictures of missing loved ones. The only other moment is when Tom Hanks/Thomas Schell is on the phone from the WTC. When he talks to his wife/Linda/Bullock and when he leaves messages for Oskar we can hear people in the background, coughing, yelling for the phone, telling him to get off the phone, asking him for the phone.
Thomas is the only character to balance the selfish/generous spectrum. When Thomas talks with Linda, she begs him to not get off the phone. This is with him telling her other people need to use the phone. Yes, she loves him. Of course she doesn't want him to go. She's scared. I understand this. But it is selfish. You can't deny that. Other people have loved ones THEY want to call, who want to hear from them. Who is she to deny them? Which is why Thomas hangs up and hands the phone off to someone else. A scared Oskar not picking up the phone when his dad is about to die is selfish. Yes, Oskar is ten (at the time) and scared. But his dad's dying. Oskar refuses to overcome his own fear when his dad wants to talk to Oskar one last time. Oskar understands what he did and hates himself for it. Which is why we get two hours of his emo reaction.
I think the largest flaw of the movie is the absence of an Ideal Character. There's no one that has suffered trauma and handled it with aplomb. There's no one that tells Linda she's letting Oskar be a little bitch. There's no one that tells Oskar he's being a little bitch. There's no one that tells The Renter he's being a little bitch. Everyone enables everyone. The only character who instructed those around him, Thomas Schell, dies. The Renter was, for me, at first, a breath of fresh air, because he reigned Oskar in and provided a model for action. But even he enables. He's a dick to the guy who doesn't answer his door (rings the bell an extra time, hides behind a bush). And then he becomes a little bitch. He tells Oskar he'll tell him his story, then forces a bartender to read what he writes. Then, when the befuddled bar tender offers to get Oskar a pop, The Renter and Oskar leave the bar, without a word of thanks. SINCE THEIR LIVES AND DRAMA ARE SO FUCKING IMPORTANT.
Or when they're sitting in a cafe and Oskar is going over his map and the guy working says he has a wife and kid to get home to, he has to close up. OSKAR DOESN'T MOVE. The Renter doesn't encourage Oskar to leave. And the movie doesn't hold on this tension. It doesn't have that employee kick Oskar and The Renter out. It doesn't have The Renter urge Oskar. What's Daldry do? He chickens out and CUTS. The cut eliminates the tension. We don't know what happened. So a confrontation that could have undermined the validation of Oskar's bitchy behavior is avoided.
One ideal character and this movie becomes INSTRUCTIVE. Instead, it's simply self-important the way most people with narrow perceptions of the world think their problems are.
Did I Like It:
No. If Oskar were my kid, I would love and deal with him. But he's not my child. Nor is he family. Nor is he real. So I feel totally fine hating him.
I wanted to break his tambourine. I wanted to kick him after he screamed at his mom and the moment his mom raised her voice he covered his ears like it was something traumatic. He can yell but God forbid his mom yell.
The shot selection was good. The cinematography.
I like Tom Hanks. I dislike him as an actor. I didn't like him in this.
Thomas Horn did a terrific job even though I hated his character.
I liked Bullock.
Roger Ebert had a really good review of this movie.
I didn't hate the last ten minutes nearly as much as I loathe the rest of the film.
But I think I hate the movie poster as much as I hate most of the movie.
Oskar accuses his mom of being absentee. I can't remember if he accuses her of being asleep a lot? Is she on anti-depressants or is she tired from contacting and visiting all the people Oskar is going to visit that weekend? Or is she gone because she's visiting the people Oskar is going to visit? This is never clarified. Probably both?
What It's Good For:
-a lesson in how not to make a movie
-read the assessment
% Character / % Actor's personality or previous roles
-Daldry: The Reader
-Sydow: Shutter Island; Minority Report; Ghostbusters II; The Seventh Seal
-Davis: The Help
-Wright: The Ides of March
-9/11 movies: United 93; Reign Over Me; September 11
-WTC: Man on Wire