We parents want our children to be able to make it in this world without us, but not yet.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of what happens when a child has to make do without a parent much too soon.
On September 11, 2001,when an odd young boy (Oskar Schell, played by the Oscar-snubbed Thomas Horn) loses his devoted father (Thomas Schell, played by the Oscar-laden Tom Hanks. Whew. still with me?) he also temporarily loses his lifeline to the the better parts of himself.
You see, Oskar’s father had been an unusually good father to an unusually quirky son, even by Hollywood standards. This is a dad who had countered his son’s dysfunctional levels of introversion with demands for scavenging skills. Skills like conversation. And eye contact. With strangers. The senior Schell turned obsessionality into resourcefulness. He hocus pocus-ed perseveration into dedication. The dad converted his son’s likely Asperger’s diagnosis into self-esteem and self-compassion.
Young Oskar’s father had died with a couple of riddles yet unspoken. But as in every parent’s eulogistic fantasy, the dad’s influence whispers from the grave: Oskar finds a key and a clue inside a vase in his father’s belongings. Thus the boy’s not-so-mythical — but characteristically methodical – journey of individuation begins. When Oskar sets out to find the lock (somewhere in the five boroughs) that matches the clue and the key, he finds a few apprentices along the way; he has to talk to them, ask them questions. Just as his father would have designed. Oskar also finds surrogate alpha (okay, beta) males who are quite different from his father, but have experienced ruptures in their father-son relationships, much like Oskar has. One is a childless, divorcing, black man. Another is a mute, mysterious, aging stranger. Two men are dead, but the boy learns their stories through the men’s sons.
This film captures the very real (and very practical) differences in the parenting styles of male parents and female parents. In general, mothers protect their babies but fathers prepare their future adults. Tom Hanks portrays an alchemist of a dad who had insisted on extracting the best possible amalgam from his child’s strengths and tics, the boy’s obsessions and perseverations. Using the devices of scavenger hunts, mythological Manhattan landmarks, oxymorons, and riddles, this dad turned a would-be weirdo into a wanderer. A New York City wanderer at that.
Stay tuned: The 2012 Oscar countdown continues!
From yesterday: Top Ten Parenting Lessons from 2012 Oscar Nominees: The Help
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