AUTISM and Controversial Oscar Nominations Well Deserved: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on 9/11
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
A Man and a Boy and Fear
Long-time actor Max von Sydow gives one of the most moving performances on film without saying a single word.
Von Sydow, whom I best remember as the ruthless Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1980), was silent in his large supporting role in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. In this film examination of post-9/11 grief and anxiety among the families and friends of the tragically lost in the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, von Sydow faces fears of another kind as he helps his grandson face younger fears.
The portrayal of old man and young man is a tandem performance that represents characters of disparate generations that have been psychologically damaged by war: World War II and the War on Terror. It represents people that many individuals want to avoid. In this, the film is sensitive, controversial, and compelling.
The Book and Film
Oscar Nominations and Others
Max von Sydow won a nomination for Best Supporting Actor going into the 2012 Academy Awards for his role in silence. News reports are that the audience gasped at the announcement, for the wrong reason. Moreover did they gasp at the Best Picture nomination. This film will not be escaped.
The audience members could have more rightly gasped at von Sydow's startling mime-like performance. Every quiver of the lips as he listened to his estranged son's taped phone messages from captivity in the Twin Towers before their collapse made the large audience I was in cry. Every sign of a small smile made them laugh. His gestures and stances communicated more than paragraphs spoken by most people.
Further, Thomas Horn (now age 14) should have received a Best Actor nomination for his in-depth performance of the Asperger's person Oskar Schell. I've worked with youth that are managing Asperger's and Horn's portrayal was real. Decidedly real.I've seen and heard all of the symptoms Horn portrays in actual clients. Clients that are people that other people avoid.
Because people don't much like being around "Aspies", this is perhaps one cause of negative media critique - Horn was too good at it. Critics cringe. Further, audiences loved attorney Jerry Espenson on Boston Legal, which was another otherworldly portray of the condition by Christian Clemensen (also acted in the 9/11 film Flight 93). A certain number of PBS viewers love Temple Grandin for her quirkiness as well. Perhaps critics are the majority of those who wish to avoid the autism spectrum, but probably not.
Thomas Horn made the 11-year-old Oskar Schell seem believably 11 and believably a child with Asperber's. Tom Hanks is his jeweler father Thomas, who helps Oskar manage his fears and outbursts with grand scavenger hunts that challenged the boy's fears in NYC. Thomas is lost in 9/11. Remarkably, the grandfather is able to continue the scavenger project with facial expressions and messages written from a note pad and Sharpie he carries.
9/11 Changed America and Its People
Phone Messages and Arguments
Oskar listens repeatedly to phone messages from an answering machine set up in front of a shrine of news clippings and keepsakes in a high closet. It is large shelf with a sliding door that is much like the sleeping chambers that have been used in parts of Europe. Oskar spends too much time there. The messages were left by Thomas from the WTO every few minutes on 9/11, until the last, shuddering gasping lines -- "Are you there? Are you there? Are you there...." The messages are horrid to hear and the best part of Tom Hanks's performance. They could cause nightmares, along with a a blurry image of a man (Thomas/Hanks) falling from one of the Towers. Oskar says that many kids probably see their lost dads in the image and carry a copy with them. I thought that this is likely true.
When Oskar noses around Thomas's old possessions and finds a key marked "Black", he determines to find all the people with surname Black in the five boroughs, feeling that as long as he is interviewing them, he is connecting with Thomas still. What results, though, is an unexpectedly magnificent scrapbook of stories and pictures of all the Blacks. An "Aspie", hallmarked by many as unable to connect with people, makes connections with about 500 people - it is a miracle.
What the critics dislike is the condition, not the film. They call the beginnings of self-mutilation and the arguments flat and nauseating at the same time. What is "flat" about a high-energy argument? Speaking of arguments, one scene shows the old man writing notes to his wife with whom he has just reconnected after decades, in her kitchen. We are looking from a high window across the street, though Oskar's binoculars. The old man scribbles madly and Granny points fingers, tears up notes, and tosses them like confetti. That's not a flat scene at all.
Sandra Bullock's character, Oskar's mom, does not reveal herself much until the last part of the film. Her relationships with Oskar and Thomas become to us, at that point, much more than we'd thought up until that time. I wanted to see more about Thomas and how he gave up his dream of being a scientist in order to become a jeweler to better provide for his wife and son.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - This is not only the film title, but also how the world feels to Oskar as an Asperger's person. Seeing this film will give you a chance of feeling those same fears as yu see Oskar and The Renter meet them.
An Old Man with Hope
Max von Sydow plays the ominous "Renter", but a gesture often given by Thomas gives him away to Oskar as a relative. The Renter does not speak, because as a child he witnessed the simultaneous bombing deaths of both his parents. He has not spoken since. At the same time, he is able to convey more information and of greater magnitude than many individuals who speak, represented by some rap lyrics: "Doin'; all the talkin', ya ain't sayin' nothin'." I enjoyed the performance as much as I have appreciated those in the past of Marcel Marceau, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. The element that is better is that The Renter is surviving real life via mime skills, which ultimately reunite him with his estranged family.
Nominations for Max von Sydow as The Renter:
- Academy Award, the Oscar - Best Supporting Actor
- Boston Society of Film Critics Award - Best Supporting Actor
- Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award - Best Supporting Actor
- Georgia Film Critics Award - Best Supporting Actor
- San Diego Film Critics Society Award - Best Supporting Actor
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