For the month of April, as it is Autism Acceptance Month, I have decided to review movies and other forms of media that have autistic characters or that deal with autism. However, as I am still doing my usual fare in terms of reviews for this blog, for this month, I have decided to just stick to movies, and in this case, I will only be reviewing five movies that deal with autism. I started out with the interesting character study of “Roman J. Israel, Esq.“, and quickly followed it up with an underrated claymation gem entilted “Mary and Max“. This time around, I decided to pick up the movie adaptation of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”, a movie that I had been interested in for some time, and decided to pick up now after learning that the young protagonist of the story either probably has Asperger’s or is on the spectrum.
Just a note before we move forward, I did not read the book before going into this movie, so I will be judging it based on what I saw and not how it compares to the book. That may be added later on when I do read it.
The movie was based on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel of the same name, was directed by Stephen Daldry, with a screenplay adaptation by Eric Roth, with beautiful cinematography by Chris Menges and with with an emotionally charged score by Alexandre Desplat.
It starred first time actor Thomas Horn as the main protagonist of the movie, Oskar Schell; Sandra Bullock as his mother, Linda Schell; Tom Hanks as Oskar’s father, Thomas Schell, Jr.; Zoe Caldwell as Oskar’s grandmother; Max von Sydow as The Renter; Viola Davis as Abby Black; Jeffrey Wright as William Black; and John Goodman as Stan the Doorman.
The movie tells the story of Oskar Schell, a young boy who most probably has an autism spectrum disorder or Asperger’s, who goes on a quest of his own after discovering a mysterious key in an envelope in his late father’s room. His father had died one year prior to the events of the movie due to the events of 9/11, a day which Oskar calls “the worst day”. Along the way, Oskar, who is laden with phobias and has a hard time socializing with others, faces his fears and comes to terms with the loss of his father. He also becomes friends with an old man who refuses to talk whom he calls “The Renter”, who had also recently moved into his grandmother’s apartment.
Making this post-9/11 story center around the perspective of a grieving child is definitely something different and refreshing given the amount of movies that tackled this difficult subject that is still etched in our memories. I also liked the fact that the focus wasn’t really the father or the event itself, but how Oskar coped with everything. (Although, I do have to wonder why he never really saw a therapist for either whatever he does have, or for his grief.)
Casting Horn as Oskar was a stroke of genius, as he was not only able to carry the weight of the entire movie on his own shoulders, but as he was able to shine among all the veteran actors in the film. He was a refreshing new face who portrayed the character convincingly.
I also liked how aspects of him being on the spectrum were portrayed from his meltdowns, sensory issues, phobias, the way he stims with his tambourine, all the way down to the fact that he also self-harms at times.
Another actor that I definitely have to mention here is Max von Sydow, who was wonderfully able to convey everything he needed to convey without uttering a single word and relying only on his movements and his facial expressions, which is why he got that Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Although this wasn’t a perfect movie, especially when it comes to its plot points and some pacing issues, there’s no denying that Daldry was able to manipulate the audience’s emotions well, especially if you are very much invested in Oskar’s story. It would take either someone with a heart of stone, or someone who didn’t buy into Horn’s portrayal of Oskar to end this movie without shedding some tears.
Now, you know the drill. From her on out, there will be spoilers!
The main mystery of it all, which initially was one of the things that intrigued me about this movie fell a little bit flat, and what was waiting for Oskar at the end of his journey was a little bit disappointing and anti-climactic. However, if you look at it as Oskar coping with his grief by going on one last big “expedition” like he used to do with his father, what becomes more important isn’t what was waiting for Oskar in the end, but the journey he went on and what he was able to accomplish in the end.
I love the fact that his parents knowingly created little exercises for him so that he would go out of his comfort zone by using his special interests, and that later on in the movie, Linda waited a bit before comforting Oskar during some of his meltdowns. I also like that parts of the movie and the score itself was underscored with the sound of the tambourine he brings around as its sound calms him down.
I highly suspect that Oskar has mild Asperger’s like me, as I could definitely relate to him. A lot of this movie dealt with how he coped with emotions and his phobias, something that I can definitely relate to.
His fears and worries that were exaggerated after 9/11 definitely resonated with me, especially in a day and age in which the news is full of accidents and terrorist attacks, and I also had to eventually face my own fears to be able to go out again.
I also loved the way the movie built up all of his frustrations that ended up in full blown melt downs not just once but twice, and I loved how Oskar was trying his best to be controlled before releasing all of his pent up frustrations in that way.
The biggest highlight of the movie for me were the road trips that the Renter and Oskar went on, and despite what the Renter thought, he did help Oskar, oddly, almost in the same way that Oskar’s father did.
Again, the acting in this movie was on point- from Horn to von Sydow; from Hanks to Bullock; all the way to all the Blacks that Oskar visited, and especially the couple portrayed by Davis and Wright.
I also loved the fact that it wasn’t only Oskar who came out of his quest changed, as there were many around him that also found healing and forgiveness in the process as well.
All of the wonderful performances, combined with an emotionally charged score, wonderfully lush cinematography, and well crafted dialogue enabled the movie to skillfully sweep the audience with emotions, and I’m pretty sure that most were in tears at the end of the movie.
It was also able to skillfully weave in the event of 9/11 as a plot device, but not making it the central focus of the story, allowing it to be refreshing and different in terms of post 9/11 movies.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I do recognize the fact that there are also some flaws in it, which can mostly be seen in its pacing, and how some plot points do seem a little bit too contrived. However, taking that aside, and depending on what kind of perspective you are watching this movie in, it was a well done movie with great performances that will no doubt be cathartic for many, whether you lost someone in 9/11 or not.
Have you seen “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”? What did you think of the movie? Did you like or not like it and why did or didn’t you like it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!