24 December 2011

'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close': a 9/11 film that follows the novel, but not the day itself according to NYT review

This is just a quick note about a 9/11 film to show two things. First, that 9/11 will for many years inspire creators of popular culture, as it has up till now. And second, that these artists will continue to struggle, often unsuccessfully, to create a work that captures something authentic and essential about the events of that day and their aftermath.

What struck me about the Manohla Dargis review in the New York Times of the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was that I now had no desire to see the film or read the book upon which it was based. (Even though it stars Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, two actors I love to watch.) I was drawn in, however, by a scene that echoed Beverly Eckert's very real 9/11 experience of speaking with her husband, Sean Rooney, as he struggled to escape from the burning floors above the impact zone in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

The images from Sept. 11 of course remain profound triggers for many of us. Some of that day’s most vivid imagery appears in the movie: there are snippets from real television news reports, but there’s also an aestheticized re-creation of a falling man that’s mirrored, with stunning imbecility, by a shot of Oskar joyfully soaring into the air on a swing. There’s also a scene in which Linda, after receiving a call from Thomas, who’s trapped in one of the towers, gazes in horror out her office window at the burning buildings. The shot is obviously composited, but it’s nonetheless a jolt because the buildings reverberate so intensely. It’s this intensity — and our deep emotional responses — that the movie tries to appropriate for itself.
But according to Dargis, the film suffers from the same shallowness and sentimentality that crippled the novel. The result is kitsch.
In truth, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” isn’t about Sept. 11. It’s about the impulse to drain that day of its specificity and turn it into yet another wellspring of generic emotions: sadness, loneliness, happiness. This is how kitsch works. It exploits familiar images, be they puppies or babies — or, as in the case of this movie, the twin towers — and tries to make us feel good, even virtuous, simply about feeling. And, yes, you may cry, but when tears are milked as they are here, the truer response should be rage.


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