Don’t Trust A Critic or: Why Everyone Criticizing 'Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close' Is A Moron And A Fool
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been racking up opinion pieces from news sources left and right since it began screening to critics late last year. It’s a film unlike many others in recent memory; so heavily critiqued and discussed via online movie blogs and traditional print media that reviews of the film have spawned articles which have in turn spawned more articles about said review-based articles. It’s a daunting cycle, and it’s difficult to go to any media outlet and find a straight-up review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close with no outside factors influencing the author’s opinion or bias clouding their judgment. So what is it about this film following the story of a boy losing his father in the September 11th terrorist attacks that has got so many people talking?
The most common word that seems to be associated with this film is “exploitative.” The next most common would be “Oscar bait.” You see, when a film with this much talent attached to it is released in the height of award season, it’s difficult for critics to review the film based on it’s own merits and not think of it in terms of its Oscar chances. It shouldn’t be difficult, after all, it is a movie critic’s job to set aside any biases or pre-conceptions with a film and review it purely based on whether or not it was good. Yet, overwhelmingly negative opinions of this film are only a stone’s throw away from you at all times. According to Vanity Fair, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close “plays to the known sentimentality of Academy members by ingeniously combining 9/11 and Asperger’s Syndrome.” The New York Times says, “When tears are milked as they are here, the truer response should be rage.” And the Toronto Star decided to coin it’s own phrase in response to the film and call the experience “9/11 porn.”
Since pre-conceptions, biases, or popular opinion, including that made by other movie critics, should in no way be part of a film review, I have made it my duty to outline my fundamental disgust and immense disagreement with all of them. Let m be clear that this is not a movie review. I did see the film, and I do know that there are strong opinions of this film and that although much seems to be clouding the judgment of most critics reviewing the film, I left all of it at the door and went in to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close with a clear mind free from any outside judgments. I write this not to put myself above anyone reviewing this movie in a less-than honest manner, but to make clear that those people seem to have not reviewed the film properly, as their job would entail them to. People are entitled to their opinions of course; after all, movie reviewing is one of the most subjective jobs there are. But in this case, everyone’s opinion, or at the very least how they arrived at their opinion, is flat-out wrong.
Let’s start with those that are saying the film is nothing more than Oscar bait. That a story designed around “ingeniously combining 9/11 and Asperger’s Syndrome” is meant only to win awards. Not only is everything about these statements false, but it’s also an argument suffering from a pure lack of any research whatsoever. First of all, the film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is based on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel of the same name, which was published in 2005. Scott Rudin, the producer on this film, or Stepehen Daldry, the director, or even Eric Roth, the writer, were never sitting in their scary Hollywood labs and trying to concoct the perfect Oscar winning film. They never set up meetings in abandoned castles where an Academy member was tied down to a rusty old operating table and teased with pages of the script littered with writings of autism and terrorism. The movie was simply optioned after the success of the book, or potentially even before it when Foer’s first book became so successful. The script then followed the rough story of the book, and the actors were cast to read said script. The release date was chosen only a few months before the film actually came out, and although there were surely plans to release it so it would be in Oscar contention, what self-respecting film with a real shot wouldn’t?
The objective of this film, when it was being planned many years ago, was not to win awards, but instead meant to be a piece of art that translated an amazing book onto the big screen; and of course, to make money. But along the way someone decided that a story about Asperger’s and 9/11 can only have one purpose, and that’s exploitation.
Well let me tell you right here that the character in the film and in the novel, Oskar Schell, does not have Asperger’s. He’s a bright kid who definitely has some quirks like most kids would, but he is not autistic. Anyone who read the book or was paying attention to the film (again, a movie reviewer’s job) should know this. Aside from that, 9/11 was a backdrop to the novel and film’s story of loss and grief. No one had a recipe book for the best way to exploit people and added six cups of September 11th in the film; it was there to begin with, and it was there for a reason.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close never exploited the tragedy. If anything, they made light of it better than any film has ever done in the 10 years since 9/11. To focus the story of the loss of over 3000 on the story of one, that’s the opposite of exploitation. 9/11 was a real event that made no sense to anyone. It not only effected those who died, but effected hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more of those who lived. The story of Oskar Schell is one story worth telling; it’s a way to try to make sense out of a nonsensical event in human history.
And to the critics who say something along the lines of, “when tears are milked as they are here, the truer response should be rage,” well now that’s just fucking stupid. Again, let me say that no one was sitting in the editing room trying to make you cry. If you cry, you should feel sad. If Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close makes you cry, then you are crying at 9/11, you are crying at the story of one boy whose family and whose life was torn apart, and you are crying at an impeccably well made film. You aren’t crying because someone told you to, so get over yourself.
Right now, it seems to be that it’s cool to hate this film. With so much violent negative reaction in the news, it can’t be that people just hate this film on their own. For God sakes, Sherlock Holmes 2 has better reviews than this film. So why is it that people refuse to look at the film on its own?
For one thing, people see 9/11 and they run. It would be the same if a movie about the holocaust were made in the 1950s. It’s not that there aren’t thousands of stories to be told about it, but it’s that people refuse to listen. They see a story about a national tragedy, and write it off from there. It explains the less-than stellar box office performance, and it explains why critics hate it so much. When a critic is forced to see this film, their mind is already made up like a three-year-old who won’t listen to their parents. With every passing minute of the movie, they find more and more reasons to hate it. When they see other people online hating it too, they make their reviews even more violent.
The kid in the main role is terrible, the plot is too unbelievable, Sandra Bullock isn’t in it enough. These are criticisms from legitimate websites and newspapers about the film. It doesn’t matter that none of them are true, it just matters that they’re there. It’s an out of control cycle of misinformation and lack of caring about it. Even Roger Ebert, the man who seems to love every movie including Paul Blart: Mall Cop, wasn’t paying attention to the movie when he watched it. He claims that the main character “is close with his grandmother and learns that his paternal grandparents were Holocaust victims.” It’s funny, but Roger, that wasn’t in the film. You’re just making stuff up now.
So where do we go from here? Everyone seems to illegitimately hate the film, but what do we do about it?
With so much media coverage, outrage, disgust, and criticism, it becomes immensely clear that in today’s movie climate it is less how a film stands on its own than how a film is viewed in the eyes of many. Can one of the year’s most hated films become one that is destined to be remembered as a classic and beloved by many? Yes, in fact, a film considered by many to be one of the best of all time, It’s A Wonderful Life, was originally a critical and commercial failure. So can a film most likely to be overlooked at the year’s premiere awards show be later praised and admired? Yes, but is any of this likely? It’s difficult to say right now, but the one thing that should be learned from this is that it is essential to make up your own mind about films and not let critics or aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic make up your mind for you. It’s up to you, the viewer, to decide, based on nothing but the movie itself, whether it is worth watching or not.