Making Sense of the Unknown


I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this film.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I knew it was a film about September 11th, indirectly.  I knew it was about a boy with Asperger’s, indirectly.  The combination of those qualities both compelled and deterred me from wanting to see this film.

The film is directed by Stephen Daldry and adapted from the same-titled book by Jonathan Safran Foer.  Foer also wrote the book Everything is Illuminated, which was too made into a film, starring Elijah Wood, and I really liked that movie.  So why didn’t I run to theaters to see this one?

Do any of us really face the things we know are going to be difficult with running feet and waving cash in hand?!  Not in my world.  But Tuesday morning announced the 84th Academy Award Nominees, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was among the nine films nominated for Best Picture.  It’s getting a fair amount buzz early on from the critics as the surprise nomination.  Sure, they’re banking on the films with homage to the film industry, such as lead nominee, Hugo, and the black and white flick The Artist, but there’s something about this film.

What could an audience learn about a situation that makes no sense at all, from a boy who has to have a practical and scientific explanation for everything?  After seeing the film, I think quite a lot.


I’m not giving anything away to tell you that the film begins with the events of 9/11.  It is still difficult to see and unable to understand.  For Oskar Schell, the protagonist, it is a life changing day that will set him on a new course.  Oskar loses his father, played by Tom Hanks, in the destruction of the World Trade Center.  Oskar’s father was the closest person to him and had a way of explaining things and teaching things in a way that was perfect for Oskar.  This boy, is only my second encounter with a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of autism.  I hadn’t even heard of Asperger’s until last year, when my local library led a book discussion with all the local schools and community using Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird, the story of another child with Asperger’s who tries to make sense of her brother’s death caused by a school shooting.

When his father is taken from him by “people he didn’t even know,” Oskar can’t make sense of why his father left.  A year after his father’s death, Oskar finds a key and decides if he can find what the key unlocks it will make him closer to his father and make sense of the unknown.  What follows is a series of encounters with individuals who will inspire you, irritate you, and make you laugh, told from the perspective of a boy with unwavering determination and courage.  By putting himself out there, again and again, in social situations that are difficult for him, Oskar will change the lives of everyone he meets, including that of his own family.

There’s something to say for the way our Nation comes together in times of need.  We’ve shared a history of despicable and unthinkable hatred toward one another.  But in times of great loss, in times of disaster, in the times when life does not make sense, we have a way of reaching out to one another.  And what better reminder of how important that is than a story of one little boy who overcame fear to get extremely loud and incredibly close.

Here’s hoping I’ll see you all at the movies!  Have you had an experience where life challenged you to make sense of the unknown?  What helps you overcome that fear?  What change do you wish our nation would make in order for us to be extremely loud and incredibly close?  Do you yourself live out that change? Why or why not?   

22 responses

  1. Valerie Biel Johnson | Reply

    I haven’t seen this movie. In fact, I had a similar reaction about not wanting to see this movie. I felt that it might be just too hard to watch. Is that awful? I don’t have a problem watching horror and violent movies, but when it comes to the grief of that one terrible day and how it resonated through everyone’s lives . . . I just wasn’t sure I could enjoy it. So thank you for posting this. If I get to the movies this weekend, I’ll let you know. 🙂

    Speaking of Asperger’s Syndrome, I just started reading a book by a fellow SCBWI-WI member that has been in my waiting-to-be-read pile for a loooong time, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman. It is a wonderful story about a boy with Asperger’s. Jacqueline does an excellent job of capturing the thought process of this little guy and how kids with Asperger’s see and react to the world.

    1. Hi Valerie! I do think this film was worth watching. It’s a lesson in courage for anyone who struggles with loving our families, and really, who of us does not go through family hardships.

      As for the book, I’m glad you like it. Reading Mockingbird was really eye opening, I for one have such regard for these kids and the way they see the world.

  2. Wow! My 13-year-old daughter saw this movie a few days ago and said she almost cried several times which is a huge thing because she’s of an age where that is incredibly embarrassing for her. Anyway, she didn’t elaborate about the movie because I told her I wanted to see it. But, now that I’ve read your post and watched the trailer, I think I should discuss this movie with her. I’m betting that we could have a great talk about this film. Thank you for posting this today.

    1. Oh I hope you do! I had a good talk with my mom when we went together. I’ll bet that movie is the first one your daughter ever cried at.

  3. An excellent review. I haven’t seen this film yet, and have hesitated doing it but probably will at some point. Thanks for this post!

    1. I get the hesitation. But I’m so glad I saw it. I hope you see the film.

  4. I’ve gone back and forth on this movie. A part of me doesn’t feel like crying my eyes out, so I really don’t think I’ll see it in the theater. But how can one go wrong with Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks? They are amazing.

    1. I really liked Tom Hanks in this movie. It might be one of my favorite roles he’s done. The way he interacts with Oskar is just awesome. Go see the movie, I know you’ll love it!

  5. I’m not sure I want to see this movie either. At least not in theaters, though I’m sure it’ll find its way onto my Netflix queue at some point.

    1. Watch it with Tara, I know you guys will like it. It might not be date night’s romantic pick, but I do think you’ll both appreciate the film. Especially you, as a dad. I love the way Tom Hanks parented FOR Oskar.

  6. Wow, great review Jess! Hadn’t planned on watching this, but now I am!

    1. It just might make one of your most inspired lists, Ollin!

  7. Well written review, Jess. I want to see the movie having read your post. (Though, like Mark said, I’ll probably wait for it to stream on Netflix.)

    1. I’m now rooting for this film as the Oscar’s underdog that wins!

  8. I have a lot of trouble seeing movies that I know will make me cry but I really want to see this one.

    1. It’s totally worth it! I hope it wins at the Oscars.

  9. My sons lost their father to cancer when they were 12 and 13. Understandably I never watch movies that involve this type of experience but after reading your review, I’ll catch it on pay-per-view where I can bawl my eyes out at home. It sounds like quite an amazing story.

    1. Patricia, I can’t begin to imagine what you and your boys went through. I do understand why you wouldn’t want to watch a film like this, but the relationship between the father and son is amazing. And as a mom, I know you’ll understand where Sandra Bullock’s character comes from. It was a really touching story. If you do decide to watch it, I’ll share a box a kleenex with you. 🙂

  10. […] Witkins reviews Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. Jess also reviews the movie, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close this […]

  11. Excellent review, Jess. Reading what you’ve said and watching the trailer, i definitely want to see this. I’ve dealt with much loss and have been in a place my life when I didn’t know which way was up. But it sounds like a wonderful story. Thanks.

    1. I thought the movie was incredibly well done and by the finish of it it all comes full circle. I hope you enjoy it, Marcia. 🙂

  12. […] Today I’ll feature Moneyball and Midnight in Paris.  I previously reviewed Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and you can check that post out here. […]

Tell me a story...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: