Sometimes an entire movie can be redeemed through one solitary scene. One might be feeling a certain way about a film and then, in a brief window of three or four minutes all of that is washed away due to the impact of what we are experiencing. There is a scene like this in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" where our young protagonist Oskar (Thomas Horn) is speaking with a man he hardly knows that may or may not hold the secret he has been searching for. Jeffrey Wright, in a small supporting role, is forced out of his comfort zone at his corporate America desk job and into an emotional state where he seems to face everything life has thrown at him rather than ignoring it as he has done before. I can't give much more about the scene away without spoiling details of the ending, but in that moment this went from being a film I wasn't sure I completely understood to one of great emotional impact. I wondered why we might need to draw back focus to the events of September 11th again, so soon after all of the anniversary specials a few months ago, but this is not a film about that horrible day (or as Oskar calls it "the worst day"). No, this is a movie about the grieving process and how the best way to handle a loss is probably not to push it under the rug and to try and convince yourself it never existed. It is a film that at times, tries a little too much and feels uneven, but in the end I was uplifted by the experience. This film has seemed to be one people either love or could care less about. I can see how such a divisive line has been drawn, but I have to go with those who took something from it. I feel I did and I can tell what a labor of love this seemed to be for director Stephen Daldry.

Oskar (Thomas Horn) clings to his father (Tom Hanks).
It is displayed in the early scenes of the film that Oskar has a close relationship with his father. As played by Tom Hanks, Thomas Schell is the kind of man we all associate Mr. Hanks with. He is a man who loves his family more than anything and he inherently does what is best for his son. It is obvious from his efforts that Oskar is wired a little differently than other 9-year old's on the block. At one point he informs us that he was tested for Asperger's but that they were inconclusive. Still, we can tell from his socially awkward dialogue, the way he speaks to people and his need for order, for sense and his attention to detail that Oskar requires a little more forgiveness than if we were watching a younger child on a scavenger hunt. Oskar loves his father, and his father indulges and challenges him to not just point out Oskar's flaws, but to assist him in helping them become irrelevant. Mr. Schell devises little "reconnaissance expeditions" that force Oskar out into a world he would usually fear. The scenes Hanks shares with young Horn do great to epitomize their relationship and why Oskar needs so badly to find closure after his death. Sandra Bullock plays the mother who is distanced after her husbands death. Oskar doesn't understand her grieving process. He persecutes her and throws uncontrollable fits that blame her for what happened and what didn't. In what was almost a stock character role Bullock is able to turn it around and in her limited time on screen deliver a truly heartfelt performance that moved me every bit the way Hanks did with his brief moments of joy and adventure.

Oskar and the mysterious man (Max von Sydow) renting a
room from his Grandmother go searching for the secrets
of the key. 
The film really gets rolling when, a year after the worst day, Oskar finds a key when searching through his fathers closet. Naturally, Oskar believes this to be a clue, a holder of some kind of secret that his father planned for him figure out after he was gone. This is the starting point for our quest with Oskar to find out what the key opens and who it belongs to. This leads him to come in contact with more people than his father could have ever imagined. Not being from New York it was easy for me to accept the long list of welcoming people that Oskar comes into contact with. It is in his search we meet Viola Davis who shines in brief moments. His mission also allows him to come in contact with the older gentlemen renting a room from his Grandmother who lives across the street. Simply known as the renter, Max von Sydow doesn't speak a word of dialogue the entire time he is on screen but is able to deliver the most moving performance in the film. Though it never actually says it we know why this man has such an interest in young Oskar, why he wants to assist him on his search and come to know him better. Sydow is remarkable in the role and makes a good contrast for Horn's character who can at times become somewhat of an annoyance.

Oskar always carries his tambourine with him to
help calm his nerves.
Oskar can be rude, moody, and precocious in his ways that leave little room for the concern of others. It is apparent he doesn't know better and is only acting in a way that seems perfectly reasonable to him. These differences in how Oskar's mind works and what is acceptable in society make the film engaging as we see it through Oskar's perspective. To see a world through the eyes of a young child, one with a form of asperger's no matter the severity, is a hard task to accomplish but the film does it incredibly well. Where at the beginning of writing this I couldn't put my finger on what is causing the divide in reaction now seems somewhat obvious. The facts of what Oskar needs to understand don't come as easily to him as they do people without this type of diagnosis as demonstrated by the argument he has with his mother in their kitchen. The film has an involving plot and an engaging lead character that some members of the audience will simply be put off by. People are attracted by the story and the need to understand more deeply the rippling effect of what that terrorist attack did to people like you and I. What they don't anticipate going in though is being told this story and how what happened affected a little boy who thinks much differently than they. Who reacts in what is likely the most opposite of ways. It is a tragic tale, and as I have written through it I feel I understand the film a little better now. It still might try and pull at the heart strings one too many times in a cloying manner, but it is no less an engaging film that deserves to be understood for what it is, not what you'd hoped it to be.

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