Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


The Book:
My youngest son, Reed, first told me about this book last summer.  It is one of the best books he has ever read.  Let me just put it to you this way.  He is extremely well read for a soon to be 20 year old.  We share the love of great literature.  "Mom, it WILL make you cry," he assured me, "It even made me feel like crying.  Oh, and, when you read it...whatever you do...don't read ahead.  It will totally spoil it," he added.

So I read it.  From page one til the end.  During the first part of the book, I was confused.  "Who is Thomas?" I asked.  "You'll find out.  Keep reading," he coached.  Slowly, but surely, I began to fall in love with a little boy named Oskar Schell who lost his dad on 9-11.  The story isn't really about 9-11.  It's about the journey of a boy who is trying to make sense of it all.

Oskar is what we used to call "terminally gifted" when I taught in a GT program.  Terminally gifted kids are so amazingly deep and creative that they have trouble fitting in with the rest of us regular people.  They are artists and writers and dreamers.  The colors they see are more vivid.  The music they hear is more exquisite.  The things they can see are more interesting.  We didn't have many terminally gifted kids come through our doors.  The one or two I was privileged enough to teach over the years were simply fascinating.  I was jealous of their technicolored ideas and thoughts.


Oskar's thoughts on hearing each other's hearts:
"What about little microphones?  What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls?...One weird this is, I wonder if everyone's hearts would start to beat at the same time..."


Oskar's idea for ambulances (borrowed from "were-cat on Tumblr"):

“An ambulance drove down the street between us, and I imagined who it was carrying, and what had happened to him. Did he break an ankle from attempting a hard trick on his skateboard? Or maybe he was dying from third-degree burns on ninety percent of his body? Was there any chance that I knew him? Did anyone see the ambulance and wonder if it was me inside? What about a device that knew everyone you knew? So when an ambulance went down the street, a big sign on the roof could flash
DON’T WORRY! DON’T WORRY!
if the sick person’s device didn’t detect the device of someone he knew nearby. And if the device did detect the device of someone he knew, the ambulance could flash the name of the person in the ambulance, and either 
IT’S NOTHING MAJOR! IT’S NOTHING MAJOR!
or, if it was something major, 
IT’S MAJOR! IT’S MAJOR!
And maybe you could rate the people you knew by how much you loved them, so if the device of the person in the ambulance detected the device of the person he loved the most, or the person who loved him the most, and the person in the ambulance was really badly hurt, and might even die, the ambulance could flash
GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU! GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU!
One thing that’s nice to think about is someone who was the first person on lots of people’s lists, so that when he was dying, and his ambulance went down the streets to the hospital, the whole time it would flash
GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU! GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU!”

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not just a book.  It's an experience.  Each word and picture is put on the pages like the pieces of a big Oskar puzzle.  There are pages with no words that shout louder than most pages with.  There are pages with pictures that seem to have no meaning.

This Christmas, I bought the book in hardback for Reed with the inscription that told him that his most treasured books should always be hardback copies.  I need to find a hardback for my library as well.

The Movie:
I was nervous about going to see the movie.  If you've read the book, you probably shared my misgivings.  The book is art.  How could a movie possibly create the feelings that the book so strongly provokes?  The answer:  very well, thank you.

Thomas Horn who plays Oskar is amazing.  He IS Oskar Schell.  There are two scenes in the movie that I think should put in squarely in first place as Best Actor.  The first is the scene where he is playing back some phone messages for "the renter."  The second is when he meets Abby Black's husband.  The script is complicated.  The words fly fast.  The emotion is high pitched.  He nails it.

I love movies that make me FEEL something.  The ones that stay in my thoughts for days.  Something's Gotta Give made me laugh hysterically.  Philadelphia made me feel sad and angry.  The Iron Lady....nuttin.  Descendants...meh.  

This movie will stay with me for a long, long time.  I'm thinking about going to a matinee this week for a second look at amazing Oskar Schell.  Wanna go with?

Should you see it?
Comparing my movie-going experience to my husband's, I would say that reading the book first is best.  Alan got a bit bored during the first 2/3's of the movie.  According to him, the last 1/3 of the movie was excellent.  If you haven't read the book, you should probably go ahead and see the movie, because it probably won't have a long run in your local theatre.


Final Thoughts.
There are few books or movies that have made such an impact on me.  I think that as we look back on 911, reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close should become part of life's curriculum.  


I leave you with one more insight of Oskar's (also borrowed from whoever typed it out on Tumblr).  "Heavy boots" is a term that Oskar's dad used for "heavy hearts.":


In bed that night, I invented a special drain that would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go into the same place, and in the morning the weatherman could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down, and you could know if New York was in heavy boots. And when something really terrible happened - like a nuclear bomb, or at least a biological weapon attack - an extremely loud siren would go off, telling everyone to get to Central Park to put up sandbags around the reservoir.

7 comments:

Carrie said...

I haven't yet read this book so I'll save your post until after I've read it. I love having a new (to me) book to read. Thanks!

Carrie said...

Oh! I just discovered that the author of this book is the person who wrote Everything is Illuminated. Another wonderfully book...and movie starring Elijah wood.

Ashleigh Burroughs said...

Jonathan Safran Foer is truly Deeply Gifted.... Oskar is one of my favorite literary characters.
a/b

Anonymous said...

Your best post to date! Thanks for the incredible review of the book AND the movie. Are you Siskel or Ebert? Love everything you write and everything you are!

Carolyn Lackey said...

I think that next to the Harry Potter stuff at Universal Studios in Orlando they should put the Oskar Schell Experience where you could climb up into his special cupboard and explore his room. Then, you could hop on the virtual reality ride that makes you feel like your strolling through NYC neighborhoods with him. Little popups would surprise you so that you could read Oskar's thoughts as he sees what you are seeing. At the entrance to the ride, they would give you special glasses and a tambourine! OMG. He's rubbing off on me! Shitake!!!

Thanks for your comments! The blogosphere can be a lonely place sometimes.

Bridget said...

Thanks for finding my blog because now I have found yours. I want to read the book and see the film after your reviews. Yay!

Carolyn Lackey said...

Thanks, Bridget! You will love both the book and the film!! Nice to "meet" you!
c