“Why didn't I learn to treat everything like it was the last time? My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.”
I finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer before midnight last night, and this morning I watched its movie directed by Stephen Daldry and starred by Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Thomas Horn. I don't know if tears are quantifiable, but I know I cried a lot.
Oskar Schell is a nine-year-old inventor, pacifist, amateur entomologist, Francophile, letter-writer, percussionist, jeweller, detective, vegan, and collector of different kinds of things. When his father is killed in the World Trade Center terrorist attack, Oskar aims to solve the mystery of a key he finds in his father's closet and see what it opens. It eventually leads him to come across strangers who share one thing in common - their last name Black - living all over New York and get to know their stories.
It's not stated explicitly in the novel, but I think Oskar has a disorder that hinders him from relating to people that much. He is eccentric, intelligent, clever, empathetic, contemplative, and has a very wide imagination. He also does not sound nor think like kids his own age, which caused a lot of criticism for Foer's work. He is afraid of a lot of things like public transportation, elevators, bridges, and loud noises, and these fears were magnified after the September 11 attacks.
“In bed that night I invented a special drain that would be underneath every pillow in New York, and would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go to 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 is in heavy boots.”
Interspersed with Oskar's search are his grandmother's letters to him and his grandfather's unsent letters to his father. I read them and wonder, how much hurt can a heart hold until it decides enough is enough? I read the lines "I’m so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything" and I decided it's one of the saddest lines I've read in a book, ever. When self-ruin becomes hand-in-hand with self-preservation, what do you choose?
As expected, the movie veers away from its source material but it doesn't make it any less worth seeing. All the actors gave stellar performances that wrung my heart dry, and I wish Thomas Horn can be given more projects as I'm sure he'll improve even more with more exposure.
The author has been met with a lot of criticism, saying that using the 9/11 tragedy as a plot point is a cheap ploy to attract acclaim, but I don't think that was his objective. In an interview, he said, "I think it's a greater risk not to write about [9/11]. If you're in my position—a New Yorker who felt the event very deeply and a writer who wants to write about things he feels deeply about—I think it's risky to avoid what's right in front of you." What happened shook the earth right through its very core and grief reverberated throughout every nation. I didn't know any 9/11 victim personally, but I'm still affected until now.
The horrors of that day can never be erased, and however minute, our lives were changed forever after that day. I won't even try to look for a silver lining from that horrible tragedy, because it still makes me angry that it happened. It doesn't make any sense at all, and trying to find its logic is completely futile.
I guess, after all the tears, my takeaway from both the book and the movie is that we should never let a moment to tell our loved ones that we love them go to waste. After all, we don't know until when we will have the time to do so. As Oskar's grandmother pointed out to him, "It's always necessary."
“I hope that one day you will have the experience of doing something you do not understand for someone you love.”