Nine-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) struggles to deal with the loss of his father (Tom Hanks) after the 9/11 attacks in New York. Following the tragedy, he becomes distant from his mother (Sandra Bullock) as he tries to comprehend what has happened, and why people commit such atrocious acts on other human beings.
A year later, after gathering the courage to search through his father’s untouched belongings, he finds a key hidden in a vase. Oskar embarks on a scavenger hunt across New York to locate the lock that fits the key, seeks emotional closure of his father’s death and on the way makes some extraordinary friendships.
Horn’s cinematic debut is sensational: his portrayal of a confused child trying to grapple with the motives for such a hateful act is convincing. His naïveté towards “why a man flew a plane into a building” doesn’t detract from the intelligence Oskar is possessed with, despite clearly sitting some way up the autistic spectrum. The traits he clearly inherited from his father give the impression of an amiable, curious young man, albeit one with inconceivable issues to deal with. He manages to overcome his phobias and defies other potential obstacles along the way: “I didn’t know what was waiting for me. Although my stomach hurt and my eyes were watering I’d made up my mind that nothing was gonna stop me. Not even me.”
He is a boy with maturity, independence and unwavering determination to discover why his father possessed the key and to solve the mystery – much in the way his father would set up treasure hunts for Oskar to complete. His father, jeweller-cum-amateur explorer is clearly a family man, and Oskar’s idolisation of his father is endearing. Oskar and his mother eventually come to terms with what has happened and their relationship is strengthened; an unexpected and charming ending.
This is a film less about the conclusion and more about the journey. It really doesn’t matter about the key and the lock – it’s more about the people he meets; his sharing of his inspiring story, and their responses.
It’s a shame that Bullock and Hanks didn’t get as much screentime as they deserve, and there was a sub-plot involving Oskar’s grandfather which was incomplete, but overall this is a memorable movie made ever more touching by its tragic non-fictional origins.
Based on the 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a poignant coming-of-age story, intertwined with themes of courage, loyalty, friendship and – perhaps most strikingly – self-discovery. I like to think that the tragedy of 9/11 made Oskar a strong and mature young man. It is often difficult to find oneself after unthinkable anguish and grief, but the best of humanity is demonstrated in those who – when they may be emotionally clouded – still seek the silver lining.