A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer about an 11-year-old who is likely on the autism spectrum who loses his father in the Sept. 11 attacks -- and how he copes with the loss a year later. Some scenes include graphic 9/11 imagery and news clips and may be too intense for young children. (If you watch with your teens, it's a good idea to have a conversation about 9/11 beforehand.) There's also some swearing (including "f--k") and drinking. Although the film centers around loss and tragedy, many adult characters are strong role models, and there's a message about learning to accept the answers that life gives you.
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What's the story?
A year after losing his father on 9/11, 11-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) longs for an answer to make sense of a world rendered fearsome and confusing. His mother (Sandra Bullock) is tormented with grief. His grandmother (Zoe Caldwell), who indulges him and his late-night walkie-talkie check-ins, can't make it all better. But one day as Oskar snoops in his father's closet, left intact by his mother, he topples a blue vase in which a small envelope marked with the word "Black" hides. In it is a key, and Oskar -- who enjoyed many adventures concocted by his inventive father when he was alive -- is convinced it's literally the key to his questions about "the worst day" (aka 9/11). But first, Oskar must find which person named Black owns the key so that he can find out what it opens. Could the sad woman in Fort Greene (Viola Davis) be that person? Will the strange old man who won't speak and who just rented a room in his grandmother's apartment help him?
Is it any good?
Despite some overdone expositional voice-overs, director Stephen Daldry approaches the film's material with great care and feeling, if not restraint. Whether you like EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE may depend somewhat on how you feel about Jonathan Safran Foer's novel of the same name, on which the movie is based, and about 9/11 itself, which is the backdrop to this wrenching, moving, but at times frustrating film. Some viewers may be put off by the use of 9/11 imagery, convinced that it's manipulative. But others may feel that the sadness depicted here is all too palpable and real and that what Oskar and his mother go through is just one valid and affecting experience that many others had in the wake of "the worst day."
Ultimately, it feels more like the latter than the former. With deep empathy for Oskar's perspective and great care, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close unpacks the baggage that he and his mother carry after the loss of his father, a caring man who understood his son's limitations and wanted to help him push against them. (Tom Hanks plays him winningly). Some may flinch at Oskar's seeming coldness about 9/11, and a plot point concerning the relay of messages hinges on a decision he makes on that day that may prove unpopular. Still, it's important to note that, first, he's a child -- and children can and do make decisions that may not make sense to adults. And second, he appears to have some form of Asperger's or autism, in which case his response makes sense. (Horn, who makes his feature-film debut here, is clearly very talented.) In the end, Daldry has made a film that's extremely moving and incredibly close to feeling quite real.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's subject matter. Teens: What do you know about 9/11? How do you think the events of that day affected the children who lost their parents and/or other relatives?
How does the media usually portray/deal with 9/11-related stories? How does this movie compare to other depictions you've seen?
Why is Oskar so bent on finding the object that the key unlocks? What does it mean for him?
- In theaters: December 25, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: March 27, 2012
- Cast: Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks
- Director: Stephen Daldry
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, History
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language
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