For my third film review for this film review series I am currently doing in honor of Autism Acceptance Month, I decided to check out a movie that I have been wanting to watch when I first heard about it, and recently piqued my interest again after seeing a short scene and after realizing that the protagonist might be on the spectrum.
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer. The film was directed by Stephen Daldry, with an adaptation by Eric Roth, with cinematography by Chris Menges and a beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat.
It starred newcomer Thomas Horn as Oskar Schell, a young boy who is probably on the spectrum and who is dealing with the loss of his father; Tom Hanks as Thomas Schell, Jr., Oskar’s father; Sandra Bullock as Linda Schell, Oskar’s understanding mother; Zoe Caldwell as Oskar’s grandmother; Max von Sydow as a mysterious man known as “The Renter”; Viola Davis as Abby Black; Jeffrey Wright as William Black; and John Goodman as Stan the Doorman.
It follows Oskar, a young boy who is probably on the spectrum, who goes on an epic quest similar to what he and his father used to do, after discovering a mysterious key in an envelope in a vase in his father’s closet one year after his death due to 9/11. Along the way, he finds healing and self-discovery, and he brings some of that as well to the people he meets along the way.
This post-9/11 story is quite different from the norm, as it is more of a story about grief and about how different people, and in particular, how this young boy tries to deal with grief and loss, making it quite refreshing. The incident is highlighted in the story, but it is used as a plot device that moves Oskar’s own story forward.
The performances in this film were great, and for a newcomer, Horn was able to stand out among a sea of veterans.
Horn’s portrayal of someone on the spectrum was wonderfully done as well. We see him getting overwhelmed by the city, his meltdowns, self-harming, and even how he copes by stimming using that tambourine of his that calms him down. The way he moved and talked was also well-done, and he came across to me as fairly believable and very genuine.
I also loved how his parents loved and supported him, and his relationship with The Renter was also something else. For more of my thoughts regarding the film itself, head on over here to read what I thought about it.
All in all, I loved how this film portrayed autism, and I loved that it was a good opportunity to talk about grief and loss in the wake of tragedy, and in particular, how someone on the spectrum copes with it as well.
Now, before we move on, there will be spoilers beyond this point, so stop reading if you don’t want any spoilers!
One of the things that I loved about this film is how much Oskar’s family understands and loves him, and goes out of there way to help him out and be understanding towards him. His father takes advantage of Oskar’s love of martial arts, entymology,etc, to devise “expeditions” for him that would allow Oskar to get out of the house and interact with other people. His grandmother understands him and tries to explain things in a way that he does understand, and both his grandmother and mother give him the space he needs to deal with things in his own way. I love the fact that his mother allowed him to go on that quest, and by talking to everyone on Oskar’s list, I think that she found healing and closure as well. Aside from being supportive, I love how Oskar’s mother gives him some time to be angry and have his meltdown, and when the time is right, she steps in. None of the older characters patronizes him or treats him in an extra special way, but they do adjust a little to his ways when need be.
As I mentioned earlier, Horn was amazing in this film. Not only was he able to stand out in the midst of actors like Hanks, Bullock, Goodman, Davis, Wright, and von Sydow; but he was also able to portray a protagonist like Oskar down pat.
Even though it wasn’t definitive, I think that Oskar is definitely on the spectrum. He has intense special interests, has difficulty socializing, gets overstimulated by external stimuli which causes panic attacks, has difficulty processing his emotions, and calms himself down by using his tambourine. He also has a hard time understanding the grey areas of things and concepts, which is why it made no sense to him that they buried an empty casket as they couldn’t find his father’s body.
He really needed to heal in his own way, and the quest that he went on was able to do just that.
I also like how they portrayed his meltdowns, with that fantastic build of emotions as well. I can relate to his kinds of meltdowns as I have always been more physical when it comes to that. Like Oskar, I throw things and rip pieces of paper and the like. Sure, those kinds of meltdowns for me are less frequent and less violent, but I could relate to the type of meltdown that he goes through.
This film might not have given their protagonist a definitive diagnosis, but I think that Oskar is on the spectrum, and is a wonderful portrayal of a young protagonist on the spectrum that isn’t too touchy feely about autism itself, as, in the end, this is a film about dealing with grief and loss. This film is definitely a must watch not only for the fantastic performances, but because it explores the themes of loss and grief in relation to someone on the spectrum.
Have you seen “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”? Do you think that Oskar is on the spectrum or not? What did you think of how they handled it here? Let me know what you think in the comments below!