Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Release Date: February 23
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a film designed for an Oscar nomination – a New York story about a disabled boy from a Jewish family with WW2 connections who loses his father in the collapse of the twin towers. And it worked; it was nominated this year in two categories including Best Film. Its emotional topography is also as familiar and heart-warming as a trip to the park with your kids. So why didn’t it win?
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer, the American author who also published Everything Is Illuminated. His story concerns an extremely sensitive nine-year-old Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, who desperately misses his departed father. Tom Hanks presents viewers with a dad who has just the right amount of quirkiness to send Oskar out of on quests across the city in search of answers to questions designed to bring him out of his shell. A year after his father’s death, Oskar discovers an unknown key amongst his father’s possessions in an envelope marked ‘Black’. He becomes convinced this is the final puzzle posed by his father, and sets off to meet every New York resident with that surname in order to solve the mystery. In the process he discovers a wide variety of lives united by the tragedy of 9/11.
Oskar is a difficult character to come to grips with. He has none of the endearing cuteness of a young Harry Potter or the cunning of a Dennis the Menace. He’s objectionable, rude and unsympathetic to most of the characters he meets – which might be entirely appropriate for a child traumatized by the loss of a parent. However that falls short of explaining his intense desire for structure and a logical approach. It’s suggested quite strongly at one point that Oskar suffers from some form of mental condition, probably Aspergers, and this seems to be the best fit. It also explains why the film ultimately fails to connect with its audience.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close builds its story around the human experience of loss, and the frustrated desire for an explanation that ultimately accompanies it. Sandra Bullock plays Oskar’s mother, the surviving half of a loving marriage, who explains that his quest to open a lock will not set him free from his pain:
“I don’t know why a man flew a plane into a building. I don’t know why my husband died. No matter how you try Oskar it’s never going to make sense because it doesn’t make sense.”
And despite the film’s promise that we’ve arrived at a point where something significant will emerge, Oskar’s painfully Hollywood solutions do end up sounding sadly hollow. It’s not just that ‘community’ and ‘unconditional love’ are insufficient answers to the problem of pain, it’s also the one who’s offering the solutions. Oskar’s actions, his suffering, his way of thinking are so utterly different from anyone else that he keeps his audience at a distance. We can understand what he’s done works for him, but we can’t see ourselves in him. By contrast Oskar’s failure to connect makes Jesus’ solution seem all the more realistic. He suffers pains similar to ours, weeps with those whose lives could be our own, and yet provides a pathway to peace that has comforted hundreds of millions for thousands of years. Jesus’ solution rings true because he does.
Rating: MA 15+
Release Date: March 1
The party film is one of those enduring features that would have been equally at home in the 7th century BC if celluloid had been around. In one sense that means there’s nothing new to look at in Project X; in another it contains some enduring truths about the human condition.
‘Project X’ is the typically nerdy name Thomas and his geek friends Costa and JB give their scheme to become popular by throwing the most awesome party their peers have ever seen. “Tonight’s about the girls we never had a shot at,” Costa says. “Tonights about changing the game.”
However the hundred or so people they invite increases by a factor of ten thanks to a whole lot of tweeting, leading to an out of control party that eventually involves taser-struck neighbours, a flame-thrower and a slightly crisp dwarf. Oh, and all of this happens under the nose of parents who are certain to arrive home long before they’re expected.
Sound familiar? It should given that it’s pieced together from the plots of about a dozen other films that make up forty years of party mayhem from American Graffiti and Sixteen Candles through to Superbad and American Pie. In fact the key features for Hollywood’s teen parties were old decades before producer Todd Phillips got around to piecing together his previous gems Old School, The Hangover and The Hangover 2. Project X checks off:
• Loud, loud music (House Party – 1990)
• Young guys whose sole purpose in life seems to be losing their virginity (Losin’ It – 1983)
• Scantily clad girls who appear happy to help (Porkies – 1982)
• Popular ‘jocks’ who are everything the geeks aren’t (Revenge of the Nerds – 1984)
• Extreme substance abuse (Animal House – 1978)
• The related destruction of expensive property – like dad’s sports car (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – 1986)
• A come-uppance of epic proportions (The Party – 1968)
So, if it’s so predictable and predictably immoral is there any reason to write a review? Only one, and it’s certainly not a recommendation to see it.
Older, wiser heads will be the first to point out that parties like this are more myth than reality, and more likely to result in unintended pregnancies, brain damage and road fatalities. Yet the attraction to adolescent minds persists – why? Because God designed humans to crave joy and we will begin searching for it as soon as we gain a sense of ourselves. So when teens queue for Project X, understand what they’re queuing for.
For a very brief time it seems to them that joy can be found in the pseudo-intimacy that music or alcohol, sex or stimulants can provide. However the effects always ware off and so the only recourse is to repeat the application, each time with a diminishing rate of return – unless they learn to see the world another way. Almost three thousand years ago the prophet Isaiah warned his party generation they were attracted to a dead end:
“Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine … Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks … They have harps and lyres at their banquets pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands.”
It might earn you the title wowser, but when you see the posters go up it’s worth repeating the warning until younger heads are sober enough to hear.