Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” was probably my favorite book during my formative years – the ones between 16 and 19 that I spent AIM chatting people I met on deviantART. I talked about it so much that my English teacher told me I was “obsessed with stories about autistic children,” and I closely audited the merits of Safran Foer’s wife.
When I saw the ad for its film adaptation, I was extremely wary. It was like they had taken a quirky, adventurous story, multiplied it by The Blind Side, and added in 8 helpings of September 11th-mourner-pandering. I went into the theater ready to hate it.
But as the movie got started, I was surprised by how well the story came to life. Whereas the film adaptation of Safran Foer’s other novel, “Everything Is Illuminated” was over-saturated with indie quirkiness (“Elijah Wood in weird glasses acting awkward!”), this film’s somewhat unexciting aesthetic style grounded its precocious protagonist Oskar in reality. The effect held a new lens to just how tragic the story was of this little boy dealing with the death of the father he counted on to help him connect to the world.
This amplification was both bad and good. Elements of the story that came off as subtle in the book, like the idea that we all have a metaphorical key we’re trying to find the lock for, became glaringly obvious onscreen. The film embraced any and all loud emotional messages, and occasionally I felt like the sad violins would never go away. Imagine that one montage in “Up” that’s too sad to watch, running for a whole movie.
The film’s treatment of September 11th was a bit heavy-handed, and it removed the ambiguity around whether or not Oskar had autism. In the book, leaving this open begged the important question of autism’s vast spectrum, and how much of it is just kids being different. It’s clear the producers wanted to add as many Oscar handles as possible by making it not just a child’s story of loss, but a 9/11 autism story starring Sandra Bullock.
Nonetheless, I found this movie much more touching and inventive than I expected to. For anyone who liked the book, I recommend getting past the misleading commercials and giving it a chance.