posted 2012-03-07 20:13:48

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Film adaption fails to live up to Foer’s novel

Alden Burke, Staff Writer

For a period of time after one of the United States’ most tragic days on September 11, even mentioning what happened felt wrong and somehow, too soon. Determining when it becomes okay to address such a delicate subject, especially within popular media, is difficult. United 93, an honest and gripping film about one of the planes that was hijacked on 9/11, was released five years prior to Steven Daldry’s adaptation of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Certainly, the topic is not untouchable.

The matter of concern has more to do with what is too much? In the recent film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredible Close, director Steven Daldry takes a quirky and riveting novel and turns it into a nauseatingly fragile film. Transferring Foer’s story to the screen, Daldry brings the viewer far too close, resulting in an overly sentimental film that feels forced upon the audience.

The story revolves around Oskar Shell (Thomas Horn), a nine-year-old autistic boy, and the death of his father (Tom Hanks) who worked in the World Trade Center. After Shell finds an envelope labeled “Black” with a mysterious key inside his father’s closet, he sets out on a journey across the five boroughs along with an elderly mute companion who he meets along the way. Searching for every “Black” in the phone book, Shell travels around New York City, telling his story and looking for a resolution to his father’s death.

Perhaps due to the format, Foer’s novel comes off as natural while Daldry’s film feels forced. Foer’s story truly captures the mindset of a nine-year-old trying to make sense of life after suddenly losing his father. His character is believable and engaging. Reading the book, one empathizes with Shell and wants to find the lock to the key just as much as the character himself. Daldry’s film, however, almost does the exact opposite and instead focuses on manipulating audiences’ preexisting emotions tied to the lives lost on 9/11. Through his heavy-handed storytelling, the movie aims to exploit the viewer in hopes of extracting tears from viewers.

There are two scenes in particular that embody Daldry’s misguided attempts to bring his audience to tears. As the lights dim in the theater and the audience waits for the opening shot, they are presented with a sole figure falling through the sky. The image is used at the end of Foer’s novel, but here, before any context is given, the viewer is already presented with an image of someone who jumped from one of the towers on the day of the attacks. As the body seems to hover in the sky, a soft orchestra of stringed instruments begins to set the depressing tone for the movie.

The tone is over-dramatized again when Oskar finds voice messages left by his father while trapped inside one of the towers. Daldry employs clichéd close- ups of a sullen-faced Oskar. With the accompanying music, it becomes hard to suspend disbelief. Instead of drawing the audience in, the tone is so somber that it makes one impatient for the film to end.

Nomination or not, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close took one of the most infamous days of America’s history and exploited it to turn a profit. Placed on the screen, the touching story written by Foer has been so significantly reconstructed and embellished that it becomes unbearable. In the final scene, Oskar’s mute companion scribbles “Stop! No more!” on a note card--a sentiment that’s hard to disagree with when applied to Daldry’s film.