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Oscar®Oscar® Nominee for Best Picture, and Actor in a supporting role
Movie Review

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language.

Reviewed by: Scott Brennan

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Drama Adaptation
2 hr. 9 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
December 25, 2011 (select cities)
January 20, 2012 (wide—2,500+ theaters)
DVD: March 27, 2012
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures Corporation

tragic events of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center, New York City

exceptional child

father son relationship

pacifist, pacifism

What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer

pain of bereavement


death of father

loss of husband

funerals in the Bible

Pain and suffering

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

ORIGIN OF BAD—How did bad things come about? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

solace of love

grandson and grandparents relationship

“healing power of self-discovery”

single mother

mother son relationship

keys in the Bible



Featuring: Tom HanksThomas Schell
Sandra BullockLinda Schell
John GoodmanStan the Doorman
Max von SydowThe Renter
Viola DavisAbby Black
Jeffrey WrightWilliam Black
more »
Director: Stephen Daldry
Producer: Paramount Pictures
Scott Rudin Productions
Warner Bros. Pictures
Celia D. Costas … executive producer
Scott Rudin … producer
Nora Skinner … executive producer
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures Corporation

Everyone has a story. That’s just one of the themes that emanated from this thoughtful screenplay in nearly every frame of this film. If ever there was a trailer for a film that tantalized a potential audience without revealing its innermost secrets, then this one surpassed it—and set a new bar. If you think this movie is just another variation of what has now become the 911 genre, think again. If you want to feel deeply, and be moved to action, then you won’t want to miss this film. This one’s a keeper for adults and mature teens.

Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock work their movie magic in the way we audiences have come to expect them to, with characters that we know, that we’ve met--real people in our everyday lives, not some Hollywood elites that none of us can relate to. But they are only the buttresses and the bookends as parents for the true marvel in this movie, their son, Oskar Schell played by Thomas Horn. This kid is amazing. I certainly hope it won’t be the last time we see him on the big screen. His recent television interview snippets reveal a savvy smart boy in real life that matches his character in the movie. He’s not sure he’ll do another film. But even if he doesn’t, his work is done here. The impression he leaves with the audience is indelible, of that I am most certain. The reaction to his performance was palpable in the theater by the end of the film. Some of that credit must also go to supporting veteran actor, Max von Sydow, who used only his facial expressions, body language and a notepad to express himself as the silent “renter” in the film. There was an almost deafening silence in the room during the final credits, yet it was filled with electricity; it made you feel empowered and grateful to be alive in that moment.

The early plot was slow and methodical, and somewhat predictable when establishing the setting and characters--perhaps a little too slow during the first third of the film. But the second and third acts took me to places I did not expect to go--places in the heart. One of the first rules for writing a great story taught in a creative writing class is “show me, don’t tell me.” What Eric Roth (veteran screen playwright—“Forrest Gump”) and director Stephen Daldry did with this amazing film was take the viewers across a tightrope of both. Using 1st person narrative voice-over they used Oskar to “tell me” what was happening, in real time and in retrospect. Yet, through a variety of unique methods, they “showed me” many other things that were “too deep for tears” (to borrow a phrase from a William Wordsworth poem).

For example, the “flashback device”—almost a staple for films in the 21st century—was intricately and cleverly used during this film in ways that were essential to the plot and which added to the depth of emotion experienced all the way through. Concerning Oskar, they used flashbacks and some of his personal grieving moments to show the audience some of the secret things the he was hiding (but not all of them) before he necessarily revealed them to others in the story. Of course, this allowed us to feel connected to him deeply before he disclosed any of these truths in real time—some that he didn’t even know that he knew, until he spoke them out loud. It was a very well-edited film with a superb musical score, (Alexandre Desplat)—compelling and moving, but not forced.

Spiritual lessons and possible objectionable content

The Spiritual Lessons that can be derived from a movie like this are innumerable. I wouldn’t be surprised if clips from this film would someday be used in sermons or at seminars in churches around the world to portray a variety of ideas, emotions and truths about God’s Word or human nature in general— if only to demonstrate the will of a child fighting against it. (Acts 9:5) Oskar had trouble viewing the miracles as they happened.

The script contains a positive focus on the bond of family, the love of a child for their parents and parents for their child. There are simple vignettes and random acts of kindness throughout the film that add layers of rich texture to the film. They each contribute to the ever-deepening waves of emotion springing forth from that common well of humanity that we all experience. There is a powerful emphasis on forgiveness, on truth-telling and just plain perseverance to help us all overcome the tragedies that befall humanity. (Rule 7: Nothing gets in the way of the search.) The boy even begins to count his own lies at one point as he pursues his personal goal of unlocking the secret to the mysterious key he believed his dad had left behind. It was a clear demonstration of conscience (Acts 2:37) and preparation for more revelation later in the film.

Conversely, the sting of death, especially under the circumstances of that terrible day, is not sugar-coated, but exposed openly. “There is no reason,” Bullock bellows to her son, “There is no explanation as to why someone would do this terrible thing. I can’t make the impossible possible!” For the believer, of course there is. And the Word says that “With God, all things are possible.” We know that all mankind has fallen under the curse of sin and death (Romans 3), and its powers and the devices of the enemy are not limited to Muslim jihadists flying planes into the World Trade Center. So we have a reason for the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15).

But for Oskar, there was only science and reason to battle the questions and doubts that would be common for anyone in his shoes. For him, only the disturbing images remained, of how he imagined his father jumping or of all the people he met on his journey including a drag queen that made him question reality, or the ladies that laid hands on him and prayed for him which made him only doubt more—why they didn’t pray for his dad on that terrible day? (My parenthetical comment when secular writers insert this “straw-man argument” is always the same: maybe they did pray, and that’s why the outcome wasn’t worse.)

This film is rich on so many levels, and yet the “Is it half empty or half full?” question is relevant here. Although “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an overused cliché, its truth is not diminished. Comments following the review I did on “The Iron Lady” last week reminded me about how differently we can each see the world. While I did see the negative light that the film may have tried to cast upon Margaret Thatcher, I couldn’t help but be moved to see only her strength of character instead. What others may view as a negative film, one to be panned even, I graded as above average in morality and to be praised, mostly because of how much I continue to admire the former prime minister and how I saw her portrayed.

In this film, getting beyond the one OMG or the half dozen or so clever cuss words (geek-style vulgarities like “succotash-my-Balzac” and “dip-shiitake”) spoken by Horn, and the emotionally charged content of 911 (some bodies falling from WTC in stills) revisited is easy when the payback is as profound as it is in this movie. That said, proceed with caution—especially with teens—but it’s the application below that I believe makes this movie so compelling.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a poignant film, sort of a cross between “August Rush” (2007) and “Pay it Forward” (2000) only without the emotional manipulation of either (although I liked them both). It takes an event that is a part of human history, nearly embedded into the DNA of our collective consciousness and uses it as a springboard to tell a gripping story. For the Christian, I believe it should beckon us to tell our own “God Story”, which, despite what evil may have swooped into our lives unexpectedly, manifestly demonstrates the mercy of a loving God and Savior coming at us in every direction. While Oskar yelled out of frustration in one particular scene, “I don’t believe in miracles,” I believe it becomes our responsibility to yell out, “But I do! Will you listen to my story?” The most powerful line in the movie for me was “Do you forgive me…for not telling anyone?” I don’t ever want to be asking that question of the Lord, when it comes to sharing what He’s done for me in my life.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—We loved this movie!!! Great relationship between father and son. And a wonderful portrayal of a child trying to come to terms with the devastating event of losing a parent. I like the aspect of relationships being healed. No cussing, no sex and no violence (that I remember), so a good movie can be made without all that. Hope it wins an Oscar!!!…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Tina, age 49 (USA)
Positive—As one negative commenter stated, the first part of the movie (perhaps even the first two-thirds of the movie) was indeed dark and sad… and I think that’s an accurate portrayal of grief. But I wish the person who made the comment would have stayed to see the remainder of the movie. I don’t know anything about artistic painting, but it seems as though I’ve heard that when the artist begins his painting, he often uses a lot of dark (boring) colors. Then, when he has his base done, he begins to add more interesting colors and highlights. And these new colors (even if not equal in amount to the former) are enhanced and given depth because of their contrast to the base colors. I think that’s what this film did.

During the beginning portion of this film, I wondered whether I’d made a poor choice (like the negative commenter to whom I referred above). However, I stayed, and the last third of the film was what made it especially memorable, poignant, and well worth watching through the dark and sad parts. By the end of the movie, I felt I had made a good choice in choosing to see it. So, if you decide to see this movie, please stay to see it through to its end.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Denise B., age 52 (USA)
Positive—Great movie! Our family (ages 12, 16, 45) loved it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Joanne, age 45 (USA)
Positive—The rating numbers do not go high enough for this film! I’ve been told that this one has no chance of winning the Oscar for Best Picture… but I’m rooting for it anyway! Some might find it slow and rather melancholy, but I really like that sort of thing. Anyway, there were light parts to break it up, too. I could just go on and on about how good this was. All of the acting, just every single part of this movie was excellent!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Kadie Jo, age 19 (USA)
Positive—This was a good sensitive movie. While it was about grief, it focused on how the boy dealt with it in his Aspergers’ world. It also didn’t focus on the World Trade disaster as such. I thought it was well done and just a good movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Nan, age 50 (USA)
Positive—I deeply related to this film, because I recently lost my dad. The acting is fantastic, and the message is very deep and inspiring. This is definitely not a very easy film to watch, as it touches on many deep aspects of relationships between parents and their children, on many levels. I can recommend this film, and I think you will especially appreciate it if you know the pain and confusion which accompanies loosing a parent earlier than expected.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Caspianstrider, age 37 (South Africa)
Neutral—This movie was rather disturbing and depressing to watch, even though it was extremely well made, and the filming was very good. The dark part, which was most of the movie, the kid was literally losing his mind and practically going crazy for over an hour. Sure, in the end, he makes sense of it all, but that is only the last 10 minutes. Wish I wouldn’t have seen this, felt way more disturbed afterward then glad I saw it. I was shocked how well the young boy could act though. I just don’t like watching people literally go crazy right before your eyes. It was a tear jerker and, overall, a negative flick.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Samantha, age 37 (USA)
Negative—To me, it was a dark, sad picture. The picture evolved around the boy hiding from a disaster that took his father. We left after 45 minutes, as the story was to demoralizing and difficult to follow. The two main big names played little parts during the time we were viewing the movie. Can’t see this as a candidate for Oscars!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—GLT, age 77 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—I thought this was an amazing movie! It was so touching in so many ways. It is a little slow at first and you might feel like you are lost but stick with it to the end. It is well worth seeing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Meaghan, age 13 (USA)
Negative—"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is, in short, a horrendously offensive, awful movie. It atrociously exploits the tragedy that is 9/11 for family-friendly Oscar bait. If you want to see a truly brilliant film dealing with the everyday ramifications of 9/11, I recommend Spike Lee’s brutal, emotionally honest “25th Hour.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1½
—C, age 16 (USA)

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