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 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close  

Theme: Life after Death

A Similar Story

Set in different centuries two of this years Oscar nominated films for Best Picture are remarkably similar in overall plot and theme. Hugo Martin Scorsese's beautifully filmed story of an orphan set in early 20th century Paris and the 9/11 tear jerker Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close set in 21st century New York are different in time and place, yet at the heart of each film lies the same story: A beloved son separated from his father by a fiery death sets out on a heroic journey that takes him out of his tower of isolation and fear and ultimately leads him to healing, and restoration in a new community.

 

Similarities:

Both boys lose their father through fiery death.

Both are imprisoned in towers of fear and isolation.

Both are looking for their father's message; one has a lock, one a key.

Both go on a Hero's Journey.

Both end up restoring two men; one older, one younger.

Both of the older men are broken by war.

Both the boys are "apprentices" to their father.

Both have help from a female.

Both stories are set after a war in a world of ashes.

Both boys know their father loved them.

Both sacrifice their treasure (lock/key) for someone else.

Both receive a message from their father.

Both end up being transformed and transforming others.

Both are healed and set free from fear and isolation.

Both end up finding a community of people.

  

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 

Death

The movie begins in death. The opening camera shot of a man falling out of a blue sky is symbolic of man's fall from God and from His domain; the heavens. Death is the ultimate separation from God; the Father of all. What is left after the fall is a world of ashes; bits of paper falling, a boy talking about dead people and a scene from a funeral. The movie begins with the death of a boy's father which is a metaphor for the fall and death of man. 

Flashback 

There was a happier time, a time of beauty and innocence, when the boy was well loved by both of his parents. He was especially delighted in by his father; they were inseparable, a real father son team. Thomas Schell was so intimately acquainted with his son Oskar that he devised a unique game, "an expedition to find the lost 6th Borough". The looking for clues would force Oskar out of fear and isolation and into community. On their last night together Thomas told Oskar "if you want to believe you can find reasons.....clues."

The Worst Day Ever

Whenever death comes it is a reenactment of "The Worst Day Ever". For Oskar it comes on the morning of September 11, 2001. 

The Hero's Journey1

Oskar is sure his father has left him a message, so he sets out on a Hero's Journey in order to find it. He leaves The Ordinary World of his home and steps into The Special World of solving the mystery of the lost 6th Borough. The only clue he has is a key he accidentally found in his father's closet. Crossing the Threshold of a bridge that terrifies him is only the first Test of facing his fears; there will be many more to come. Along the way Oskar will be aided by Allies and disheartened by a few Enemies.

His journey takes him toward the ultimate destination of finding his greatest treasure, whatever it is that the key opens; which is guarded by his greatest fear, having to articulate what happened the morning of the worst day ever. He Approaches the Inmost Cave of his greatest fear with "The Renter" but cannot bring himself to push the button on the answering machine and play his father's sixth message. 

Finally Oskar comes to his Ordeal, he discovers who the key belongs to and that it really was not a clue for him. In giving up the key to its rightful owner he demonstrates sacrificial love for another person. This is the ultimate Test; a dying to self. Passing it Oskar is released from his prison and is able to speak. He has listened to so many other people's stories on his journey, now he is able to tell his own. In making his confession to Mr. Black he asks for forgiveness and receives the absolution he has so desperately needed.

The journey is not over for Oskar; he plunges back into pain for now he has no clue, no reason to continue to try and stay in his eight minutes of light with his father. In letting go of his father's game he is restored to his mother who unbeknownst to him has been there all along; mysteriously going before him to light his path.

The Road Back takes Oskar to Central Park where he writes thank you letters to all the Blacks he visited on the journey. He opens his heart in the letter telling them, all he ever wanted to do was make his father proud. At that moment Oskar remembers the first clue; the one his father gave him the night before he died. He finds the third swing from the right and underneath its seat is the message his father left him. The Elixir of life is his father's words..well done..your bravery and wisdom have proven the existence of the 6th Borough . . . the inhabitants celebrate you and so do I.

Oskar is Resurrected to a new life. He leaves the tower of fear and isolation for good. The book he created on the "Reconnaissance Expedition of the 6th Borough" shows his father not falling but ascending. The last camera shot is of the son set free on his father's favorite swing, pumping with his father's shoes, climbing high into a blue sky.

The Sixth Borough

In the Middle Ages it was believed that God gave man five external senses; sight, hearing, smell, taste touch and one internal, the sixth sense; the heart.

There are five Boroughs in New York that one can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch but where is the sixth borough; the one that was attached to Central Park?

Oskar thinks people are just numbers in a giant equation (the thinking of the modern and postmodern world). What he learns on his expedition is that people are "letters, letters want to become stories, stories need to be shared". The search for the lost sixth borough leads Oskar out of his head and into his heart; it brings him out of fear and isolation and into a new community. All the Blacks in the five boroughs become the lost 6th Borough connected together by the key that represents the love of the father for the son and the love of the son for the father.

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Note 1:  The Hero's Journey sometimes called the Hero Myth or Monomyth is a universal pattern recurring in all cultures at all times. The twelve stages adapted here are from The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler:

 

  • The Ordinary World
  • The Call to Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting the Mentor
  • Crossing the Threshold
  • Test, Allies, and Enemies
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave
  • The Ordeal
  • Reward
  • The Road Back
  • Resurrection
  • Return with Elixir

 

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