(Warner Bros. Pictures) The emotional repercussions of 9/11 have permeated every aspect of American culture in the past decade. Books and movies explore the immense loss of that day; some barrel through the facts with unwavering bias, some explore the resulting war, and many have given a minute-by-minute look at the actual horrific events. Jonathan Safran Foer’s second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, strips away the politics to examine the simple grief felt by an extraordinarily brilliant narrator: Oskar Schell.
Oskar (Thomas Horn) is nine years old. He plays the tambourine when overwhelmed, has a phobia of elevators and subways, and writes letter after letter to Stephen Hawking. Living in Manhattan with his mother and grandmother, Oskar feels and experiences on a magnified level. He is “extremely brave” and “incredibly alone.” Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close documents his struggle to cope with the death of his father in the second of the two towers.
Tackling this sort of subject matter can easily be seen as manipulative or contrived, but Safran Foer creates such a multidimensional voice in Oskar that all my normal cynicism was wiped clean. His coping methods and sheer anxiety ring true for a highly sensitive and traumatized boy, and I found myself reading the novel with such gusto that I was finished in two days.
The issue with adapting such an impressive piece of literature is tasking enough, but Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close relies heavily on the voice of its narrator and on stylized literary techniques. Wordplay, repetition, and exaggeration are as integral to the novel as the plot. With Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Ali, Munich) writing the screenplay and Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader) directing, the film adaptation has a strong shot at hitting the mark.
The trailer for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close reveals just how close Thomas and his father were. Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) was one who understood just how odd and wonderful Oskar’s sensibilities were, sending him on intricate quests across New York City. Puzzles, crosswords, and clues were their way of connecting, and even after Thomas’ death, Oskar discovers one last quest. A solitary key with the name “Black” dominates Oskar’s life. He works through every “Black” in the phone book, struggling to make sense of his loss.
Like Stanley in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Oskar’s intelligence and sensitivity is key to the success of the film. Thirteen-year-old Thomas Horn was cast as Oskar after being discovered on an episode of Kid’s Jeopardy, and appears to have the precocious wit akin to Oskar. With Sandra Bullock as Oskar’s distant mother, and Tom Hanks (who can do no wrong) as Oskar’s father, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has some potential Oscar nominations lined up. Viola Davis, John Goodman, and Jeffrey Wright round out a handful of the characters Oskar encounters on his quest, while Max Von Sydow is bound to amaze as the mysterious man known only as “The Renter.”
As such a huge fan of the novel, I have high expectations for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Every adaptation takes its liberties, but if Rush and Daldry can get the tone right, this film has incredible potential.
For Fans Of: Magnolia, Forrest Gump, 25th Hour
Why We’re Excited: Precocious Child Narrator, Based on a Novel, Tom Hanks
'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' is on limited release in LA and NY Sunday, December 25, 2011, and wide release Friday, January 20, 2012.