Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Oscar-Trolling 9/11 Kitsch

Director Stephen Daldry has never met a Big Theme he didn’t like: After 2002’s The Hours, a lugubrious women’s-problem picture touching on AIDS and assisted suicide, he went to Auschwitz with 2008’s The Reader. Daldry’s logical next stop is this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, which provides not one but two global/historical tragedies to play with. Ten-year old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) has lost his father (Tom Hanks), who was on the 105th floor of one of the Twin Towers on the morning of 9/11. Almost a year later, Oskar, increasingly estranged from his mother (Sandra Bullock), finds a key in an envelope labeled “Black” among his father’s effects, and, in an effort to keep open the dialogue with his scavenger-hunt-designing, game-playing dad, concludes that this key was the prompt to a last riddle, which he sets out, at length, to solve. He is joined for a leg of his mission by a mysterious, mute tenant staying in his grandmother’s apartment (Max von Sydow), very likely the grandfather who abandoned Oskar’s father. Mr. Schell invented games to bait Oskar out of his anxieties, while Extremely Loud plays its own writerly game of strategic withholding, baiting the audience along the way to a therapeutic breakthrough for the surviving Schells. Such an abundance of “epiphanies,” one after another, amount to a tactical assault on viewer sentiments. The deluge of tears is Daldry’s idea of pathos, but to these eyes it’s Oscar-trolling 9/11 kitsch.