Paranoia and Cynicism in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the movie adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s acclaimed novel, tells the story of nine-year-old Oskar Schell and his journey to find the lock that fits a mysterious key, all while coping with his extreme paranoia and fear of the world, and the death of his father during the 9/11 attacks.

Oskar is a very peculiar boy. During his meeting with Abby Black, the first on his list of individuals to meet in New York City with the last name Black, Oskar declares that many people call him odd and that he’s even been tested for Aspergers, but the results were inconclusive.  Although Thomas Horn does a convincing job at playing the very aware Oskar, various technical cinematic elements greatly add to the feeling of paranoia throughout the film. Oskar has very acute hearing, making the buzz of the city more loud and disturbing than usual. When he has a moment where the world is just too overwhelming, most of the background noise is muted and very distinct sounds are amplified in order to allow the audience to put themselves in Oskar’s shoes. Along with slow-motion camera pans and medium to up-close shots, there is this “incredibly close” feeling that is emitted from the film that works very well to heighten the overall tone of the characters thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Because the conflict in the movie takes its basis in the 9/11 attacks, there is a reminiscence of the this inherent paranoia that came about surrounding that very traumatic day. People were left with so many questions – what happened, why did it happen, who did it – and for a while, it was hard for many people to return to their regular lifestyles, especially if they had suffered from a personal lost, and especially if they were a child who was trying to understand it all. Oskar didn’t understand why his father was taken. He didn’t understand how people could do such horrible things and he felt that if it could happen to his father, than it could happen to anyone, including himself. This idea added on to the list of fears that Oskar already possessed, unwilling to take certain forms of public transportation,  go on the swings, take the elevator, or do anything else that could seemingly put his life at risk. Once he finds the key in a vase amongst his father’s things and begins his search, with the help of who he believes to be his estranged grandfather, the seed is planted in his mind that his search may never yield any results. This incessant need to find what he believes to be a message left by his father overtakes his every waking moment, consuming his thoughts and though introducing him to many different people, distancing him farther from reality.

It can also be said that Oskar exhibits a sort of cynicism towards the adults that surround him. Oskar lives a fact based life; he is very knowledgeable, but instead of thinking things through and understanding them, he takes information at its base, excepts it for what it is, and moves on. It’s because of this that he believes that no one understands him quite like his father does, and after he dies, Oskar’s relationship with his mother deteriorates. Oskar resents his mother because he doesn’t feel that she can connect with him on the same level that his father did. He doesn’t fully comprehend the fact that his mother is grieving just as much as he is, but in a different way. He goes on his journey thinking that his mother has no interest in knowing what he’s doing, when in actuality she had been one step ahead of him the whole time. It could be because of his age or his utter lack of understanding for really anyone but himself, but Oskar has this kind of selfish outlook that causes him to believe that he and his thoughts and his objectives are more important than everyone else’s, making them inferior to him in his mind (for example, the doorman played by John Goodwin). There is also a sense of nostalgia present in the film, one because it is taking the viewer back ten years in the past and forcing them to recall a time of great loss, but also because throughout the film, Oskar looks at a sort of memorial that he’s constructed in his room of old pictures of his father, along with the answering machine that has the six messages his father recorded before he had died.

In Hollis Frampton’s (nostalgia), through the use of images and voiceover, Frampton highlights the disjunction between images and sound. As each image appears on screen, the next image is being described. This creates this sort of anticipation of what’s to come and the memory that lies within the photograph at hand. What Frampton tries to get across is this idea of a romanticized view of a moment in time through a photograph, though what’s pictures and what’ s interpreted may not have been exactly what had occurred. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Oskar takes photographs of each of the Blacks he meets. He documents them in a specific moment in order to recall the life of that specific individual, and possibly how they may have effected him. In the article Notes on (nostalgia), Frampton says “The actual making of the film was dogged by misadventures so thorough in keeping with my subject’s character that, as they accumulated, I gained confidence.” To me, this idea is similar to how the photos that Oskar took effected him. After hearing each individual’s story, and how others too were in pain, but still wished him well on his adventure, Oskar began to understand that he’s not the only one who’s suffering and that everyone has a story. This feeling of not being so alone could have propelled him further, knowing that complete strangers were on his side. While each photograph may not depict the moment which Oskar wanted to remember most, but each image held a kind of vulnerability that allowed Oskar to prescribe whatever connotation to it that he needed to make the photo most meaningful.

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