Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is as beautiful as it is fractured, fundamentally flawed and exceedingly convoluted. The film is a contradiction to itself and the viewer, driven mad with nearby melodrama and dangerously close to opportunistic, yet the true strength of the film is achingly genuine performances and calculated, but necessary plot devices. You have to embrace the cardboard container for the gems inside, find truth in the scattered child navigator and his obsession early on or his stream-of-consciousness will flood the senses, block out all else with the emotional turmoil of such a collective tragedy. ELIC makes no effort to round off the edges or slow down for you to catch up, find firm grounding to put all the pieces together. Instead we’re forced into the quagmire with Oskar Schell on a most unconventional journey with lasting consequences that surprise, repel and speak to the triumph of the human will to believe in the mysteries of the universe when all else fails.
That’s a lot to ask from any film, especially one about a child facing the sort of tragedy no one should ever have to face. The rapid fire staccato pace dialogue and near improvisational quality of the child hero’s deconstruction of events connecting him to his dead father is heralded by some and repudiated by others as heedlessly opportunistic; a foul ball from a pitch that shouldn’t be so familiar, sensitive, raw. The fact that Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are little more than impressions of characters in the story, backdrops if you will, is and does bother fans of the actors who would rather see them more and love their familiarity to carry them through the awful truth of death and consequences. Where the film finds the stride that rewards the distracted viewers is in the details, the bits of drama and humor woven so tightly as to be air, suggestions more than facts you follow and events you need to get through. The story is assembled from the least likely stuff you hardly realize is happening all around you all the time, the little things as we’re shown that make up all the big things in our lives. Once you’re there following the child on his mission of discovery it starts to feel real, as real as anything. Once you’re watching the death of innocence in order to foster the birth of experience it begins to make sense. ELIC is a difficult film that weighs even on the most willing viewer, demanding from us the chance to arrive someplace entirely different from we expect but awful glad when we do. ELIC is that film you hear about that cannot be summarized or categorized until you experience it yourself. Then and only then will you know how you feel about so much honesty.
Nine year old Oskar Schell is a survivor. He doesn’t know what he is as much as he just wants to hold on to the past as much as we do, hold it a little while longer; it is this obsession with staying the same forever that we connect with even if we’re not sure what to call it at first. Oskar’s father (Tom Hanks) is a victim of 9/11 and he was one of the few that knew he was dying and had a phone to call his family. The film follows Oskar’s discovery of events surrounding the last moments of his father’s life, a key and voice messages left on the family answering machine. Oskar buries himself in immediacy in order to understand what’s taken place, in order to distance himself from the pain. His drive to discovery is the all-consuming thing people do when their lives are ripped out from beneath them, pouring themselves in missions crafted on the spot for himself and no one else. Oskar devises a way of getting through the moments so he doesn’t have to deal with the now, hoping down the road he’ll find the thing he’s looking for and answers will just happen. Oskar’s journey is important because it’s our journey too. Some of us our on similar paths, others have finished them and some have just begun.
Review aggregator’s have the film somewhere in the middle of the road, positive and negative reviews staggered together in some hope of knowing the film, owning the experience of it instead of just distancing it with scrutiny. ELIC takes a place with similarly difficult films that you have to watch at least once – 21 Grams (2003) Alejandro González Iñárritu, Requiem for a Dream (2000) Darren Aronofsky, Schindler’s List (1993) Steven Spielberg – movies that remind us of the collateral damage from so much living, moving in and out of being so extremely loud and incredibly close.
Blu-ray or not to Blu-ray?
It’s always difficult to recommend a character film for Blu-ray. It’s not that all films wouldn’t benefit from the enhancements, it becomes a matter of timing. Obviously if you’re adding to this library for the first time, why not Blu-ray? Upgrading an existing copy, probably not necessary. Nevertheless, Blu-ray is still king, baby.
Warner Home Video, a division of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc., invited me to join their exclusive Blu-ray Elite Movie Review Program and they sent me a complimentary copy of this movie for the purpose of review with special attention on the “Blu-ray Experience”. I received this video for free, but that does not sway this review or the reviews of other films that will follow.