What I Saw: Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close
As a nation, the United States has largely treated 9/11 as a cross between Pearl Harbor and The Alamo. We’ve heard politicians use it to bolster their certainty in an axis of good and an axis of evil, while others throw around the phrase “never forget” to prove their patriotism in fields as far removed from that day’s events as taxation and health care.
When I first left the theater, I was suspicious of the multiple gimmicks that this film used. Leaving aside the 9/11 subject matter which is guaranteed to make grown men cry, the film features an autistic boy (Thomas Horn) and a man who doesn’t speak (Max von Sydow), thereby creating a world where secrets can last for two hours through lack of communication. It uses scavenger hunts and flashbacks to cast an air of mystery on both the future and the past. It has a father (Tom Hanks) who appears a bit too perfect, a mother (Sandra Bullock) who appears a bit too distant, and New Yorkers (Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright, among others) who open their doors and pour out their hearts to strangers in a way that doesn’t even happen in small towns. If that wasn’t enough, we also get some surprise twists and turns (which I won’t spoil) that are designed to make you rethink everything you’ve so carefully been lead to believe.
But as I reflected on it, I began to understand why Hollywood storytellers would appreciate a film like this, and I began to think of those “gimmicks” as “narrative devices.” We often laugh at the idea that something will be nominated for an Oscar just because it makes grown men cry, without really asking how much work it takes to achieve that result in our macho society.
Surely a storyteller can’t be blamed for using a little subterfuge to get a country to let down its guard and talk about grief, when their first instinct was to focus on revenge. And when parts of the country are still talking revenge after ten years and several wars, then maybe you need a LOT of subterfuge. For a nation that has been talking about 9/11 for a decade, have we really communicated any better than that autistic boy and his mute friend? Has our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan really amounted to anything other than an elaborate scavenger hunt? Hasn’t our discourse idealized the certainty that we imagine existed back in our fathers’ generations, while assuming that a more “motherly” approach to peace and complexity has nothing to teach us? And if we find that the film had to pile on multiple narrative devices, or even multiple gimmicks, in order to fool us into feeling something, might that say more about our own failure as human beings, and how much harder it is to get through to us?
P.S. In the picture below, does anyone else find it meaningful that Sandra Bullock’s character just happens to be covering up the parts of the map where the United States has chosen to go to war?
While I was surprised that the Academy went with nine nominees, I wasn’t terribly shocked to see this film included in that expanded list. Prior to the nominations, I had listed it as number 10, and had Max von Sydow at number 7 in the supporting actor race. The film and director had previously made the Critics’ Choice list, with Thomas Horn even winning their Young Actor award over two competitors who came from assured Best Picture contenders. In hindsight, perhaps that should have been a sign that the film had more fans than we originally imagined.
I also think that the film benefited from having Scott Rudin as one of its producers. Like Harvey Weinstein, Rudin understands how the Oscars work, and undoubtedly was able to explain the new 5% rule to members, convincing those who liked the film of the importance of placing it first on their ballots. Which is exactly what they should have done, as I discussed when I wrote about Oscar Ballot Strategies.
Best Picture (currently ranked 9)
Supporting Actor: Max von Sydow (currently ranked 4, but will probably be moved up to 2nd place in my final analysis of this category.
As always, check the Tracker Pages in the upper right hand corner of this blog for the most updated predictions in all categories!
My Lamb Score: 3 ½ out of 5 Lambs
What is a lamb score? Click HERE to learn more.
Read recent reviews HERE, or search the Archives.