Sunday, January 22, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

There was an extended preview for Extremely Loud before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and through the whole 3 minute clip I kept thinking, "This kid is on the Autism Spectrum." I got my phone out and quickly texted my wife: "We must see this movie." (don't worry, the movie hadn't started yet so I wasn't one of those movie goers)

Extremely Loud follows Oskar (Thomas Horn), a precocious ten year old New Yorker, as he tries to make sense of losing his father in the World Trade Center attacks - an event which Oskar repeatedly refers to as "the worst day."

Oskar is abnormally intelligent; possesses a legion of phobias; has an obsession with facts, numbers, and maps; has a foul mouth; speaks his mind without weighing the possible impact of his words; employs self stimulating routines; and has several other peculiar habits.

In his grieving, Oskar finds a key and thinks it's a clue to a quest that his father left for him to explorer and dicsover New York's lost sixth borough. His self imposed search to find the lock that the key unlocks is an attempt to find order in the disorder of life and make sense of an inexplicable tragedy. In it he touches the lives of many people - most of them strangers.

We also see the struggles of parenting a unique child. We see Oskar's dad (Tom Hanks) step into his child's world. We see Oskar's mom (Sandra Bullock) care for her son while coping with her own loss. You see the heartbreak and the joy of raising a kid that is just a step out of sync with society.

As the movie started, I couldn't help but laugh (perhaps inappropriately) at Oskar's eccentricities. It's a somber film and you should feel sorry for this kid that learned of his father's death through a series of six answering machine messages and TV news reports. But I couldn't help but chuckle as he counts the number of lies he tells, or sorts through the essentials he needs to pack to take on his search, or compulsively shakes a tambourine to find courage to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I laughed because it was like watching my son on that big screen. It was a glimpse into my son's inner psyche.

At last the moment of justification came. Oskar is interviewing (interrogating) strangers to find who knew his dad and recognizes the key. He explains to the first stranger, "People tell me I'm very odd all the time. I got tested once to see if I had Asperger's disease. Dad said it's for people who are smarter than everybody else but can't run straight. The tests weren't definitive."

But Bekah and I both recognized the signs of ASD. Oskar is just quirky enough to be described as an aspie child with or with out an official diagnosis explained in the script. And the oddities of being a kid with Aspergers was expertly portrayed by Horn.

But of course the movie isn't all about Oskar's disorder. But it does help explain why and how Oskar executes his search for the missing lock. It is this understanding that may be lost on many movie goers. It is a frame of reference that helps audiences understand that Oskar is not a normal child.

If you want to see what life is like for parents like Bekah and me or thousands of other parents whose kids are on the Autism spectrum, go see Extremely Loud. If you are the parent of a kid on the spectrum, this is a must see film. And if you're just looking for a good film, this movie packs a well composed script, a gut wrenching story, and believable portrayal of dealing with loss.

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