Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, directed by Stephen Daldry, features an all star cast including Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max Von Sydow, Zoe Caldwell and John Goodman, but the true star is Thomas Horn as ten year old Oskar Schell who loses his father on 9/11.  The film opens at his father's funeral; Oskar refuses to leave the limousine-- the coffin is empty, and without his father's body to mourn, death remains an abstraction.

Oskar refers to 9/11 as the "worst day."  First to arrive home on 9/11 from early dismissal at school, he hears the last phone messages from his father who is waiting for the firemen to rescue him.  Before his mother comes home, he swaps the answering machine to keep the messages hidden from his mother and grandmother, possibly to protect them from hearing the anguish in his father's voice or to preserve the special relationship he had with his father.  In a flashback we learn that Fred Schell, an amateur scientist, is concerned about his son's timidity. To help Oskar overcome his shyness, he invents searching expeditions that require Oskar to talk with others. One involves a search in Central Park for clues to the lost sixth borough of New York City.  Oskar's skill at tracking clues comes into play when he finds a key labeled "Black" in his father's belongings and begins a search that he hopes will lead him to discover something his father meant for him. 

The film is adapted from the novel of the same title by Jonathan Safer Foer.  The storyline has been streamlined for the screenplay, but the emotional turbulence that permeates the lives of the Schell family is exquisitely portrayed.  Sandra Bullock as the grieving widow must deal with her son's rage that it was she who was spared instead of her husband.  Despite her overwhelming grief, she watches over Oskar in a way that allows him to experience the search on his own, and it is only later that he discovers that she watched his every move, out of love.  Oskar will never get his father back, but he is able to come to terms with the loss and to move ahead with his father's silent encouragement always close at hand.

Max von Sydow plays Oskar's long lost grandfather, a character that was fully developed in the novel but not in the film. For instance, his refusal to speak, answering questions with a "yes" and "no" tattooed on either hand and writing on a pad for more explicit responses, remains a mystery that begs for further explanation.


The film is a sensitive, nuanced portrayal of the devastating effect of 9/ll on one family, but the tone is not somber.  Despite the loss, there are many people who care- -the man who hugs Oskar over and over again, the child who paints pictures for him, and the woman who leads him to the man with the answer to the mystery.

The relationship with his mother-- at times protective and at other times hurtful as when Oskar tells her that he wished it were she who was in the Tower instead of his father-is highly believable. The sudden fears that erupt seem genuine.  At heart, this is a film about experiencing and coping with a life altering loss, a universal and compelling theme. 

Primary Source

Warner Brothers