Nominations: 2 (Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor: Max von Sydow)
Availability in the US: Now in theatres
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language
My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. He never talked much about his experiences during the Holocaust, and in 1993, when Schindler's List came out, he flat-out refused to see it; even 50 years after coming to America wounds were still too fresh and too deep. I never quite understood how simply seeing a movie could reopen those old wounds, but then came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Though my experiences during 9/11 don't come anywhere near what my grandfather experienced in Poland, I finally understood how something so terrible could happen that it would feel off-limits even to movies. I vehemently avoided seeing United 93 when it came out and had managed to avoid all other 9/11-related films, true and fictitious. I felt almost as though I was channeling my grandfather when I told friends, "I lived through it, I remember it, I don't need a movie to remind me!"
Last week I broke that streak and went to see Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. The film follows a young boy named Oskar whose father (Tom Hanks) died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. A year after "The Worst Day," as Oskar refers to 9/11, Oskar finds a key among his father's things and sets off on a mission—one that will take him to all five boroughs of New York City—to figure out what the key unlocks; he is convinced whatever it opens will contain a message from his deceased father. He is aided by a mysterious old man (Max von Sydow) who rents a room from Oskar's grandmother and who hasn't spoken a word in decades.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is not an easy film to watch. Although Oskar's father dies in the first few minutes of the film, flashbacks abound, and 9/11 is a major theme throughout the film; I can't remember the last time I cried so much and so hard throughout a film. That being said, Oskar's determination and his journey are inspiring and heartwarming. At its core this is a film about life, not death; about moving on, not looking back. Max von Sydow's character (referred to in the credits simply as "The Renter") manages to make you laugh, cry, and throw up your hands in frustration, all without ever uttering a word. His embodiment of the character is masterful; few actors could have pulled it off even half as well.
Though von Sydow gives an Oscar-worthy performance, he is up against Christopher Plummer (Beginners) who has won nearly every pre-Oscar award. In the Best Picture category, only time will tell, though most of the buzz has been with other films. Still, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is worth seeing; just make sure you bring a box of tissues.Grade: A-