Tag Archives: Autism Spectrum

Up High in the Trees by Kiara Brinkman

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Told through the eyes of a highly unusual eight-year-old boy coping with grief and the disintegration of his remaining family members, Up High in the Trees is a poetic first effort by Kiara Brinkman. Sebby has a highly sophisticated, personal, and unique voice unusual for his age group, and the story is told an undetermined amount of time after his mother is struck dead by a car in the night. Sebby, like any young boy bereaved of his mother, struggles with his loss, and his dad takes him to the summer house to recuperate, only to fall into a deep depression in which he is unable to take care of himself, let alone his bright, inquisitive son.

Many people have speculated that Sebby is on the Autism Spectrum, probably high-functioning Asperger’s, and many passages (including his sensitivities to light, color, and sound) seem to hint at this. He is never diagnosed, which is just as well, but even for a precocious boy with Asperger’s, Sebby’s voice seems highly unlikely at times. Often he seems like a psychology graduate channeling their inner child rather than a true eight-year-old. However, if you get past the initial humps (Sebby seems too sophisticated for a little kid, the other characters are a bit too thinly defined) Up High in the Trees is a compelling read.

The chapters are short and often abstract, like a fragment of a passing thought or dream. That makes it very readable, since you can read a chapter or two on a bus ride and finish them in no time at all. Sebby often fails to engage with others, living in a gauzy world where he retraces his mothers steps and treads among her memories. He and his mother shared a private world together, and now his siblings and dad are flummoxed by his failure to grieve in a normal way. What is the ‘normal’ way to grieve, anyway? Hankies and tears? Hugs and sentiments? Sebby is removed from planet Earth as most know it, preferring to chase memories of his mother than other kids.

He finds solace in an old camera, which he uses to take pictures of life as it is- without Mother. I really rooted for the reconciliation of Sebastian and Katya, a slightly older Russian immigrant. I couldn’t figure out why he was so mad at her. She was was protective and kind and even forgave him when he bit her on the shoulder! Instead, Sebby pursues friendship with Jackson and Shelly, two under-supervised ragamuffin kids who seem to engage in a lot of risk-taking activities.

I would like to read anything further that Kiara Brinkman writes. In this flawed but well-done novel, she explores being wired different in a neurotypical world, bereavement, and the meaning of family. Sebby’s brood fray and very nearly fall apart, and I guess that not all was well before his mother’s death, either.  But almost unraveling is what eventually puts them together and makes them stronger as a family. I hope you can derive inspiration from this brief but effective read.

Parallel Play: Growing Up With Undiagnosed Asperger’s by Tim Page

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A few years ago, I fell in love with John Elder Robison’s enlightening and entertaining autobiography Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s. I was deeply appreciated Robison’s ability to shed a light on his foibles and faults, both within the diagnosis of and apart from his Asperger’s Syndrome. Little did I know that I would love Tim Page’s small but effective memoir, Parallel Play, even more. A former music critic and only recently diagnosed Aspergian, Tim Page is a brilliant, funny, and insightful writer. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought he’d been planning this book all his life, constructing the sentences so exquisitely so that the fellow Aspie could nod in agreement and wonderment, marveling that at last someone understood them.

“Parallel Play” chronicles Page’s life from the age of about four (a tricky age where he describes himself as a ‘grim little athiest,’ struggling with daunting existential questions) to the slump of middle age. In the years in between, Tim Page experiences many struggles, from crippling social anxiety and depression to drug and alcohol use. His love for books, music, and films keeps him afloat. Page’s self-deprecating wit lightens passages that might otherwise be hard to read (his adolescent suicide letter, the drunken car crash that took the life of several of it’s passengers and left him alive.)

The chronicle of Page’s childhood is insightful and often laugh-out-loud funny. His youthful years were lonely, yes, but also shaped him as a human being. He describes his love of music culminating at an early age, his dislike of his baby sister Betsy, and his father’s paranoia-fueled Cold War anxieties (I wonder if his dad had a touch of Asperger’s himself.)

Tim Page describes Asperger’s to the outsider looking in. The condition, a collection of social awkwardness, obsessive hobbies, sensory issues, and a unique wordview, is often confused with eccentricity, insanity, or just plain entitlement to the uninformed observer. But, in fact, Asperger’s does exist, and it’s not always so easy to be Asperger’s in a neurotypical world.

The later chapters are less about Asperger’s and more about Page’s misspent youth- pot, hallucinogens, and high alcohol intake that only exacerbated his panic attacks. He isn’t afraid to portray his younger self as ignorant (albeit brilliant,) pedantic, and snide. In a world of memoirs that portray their creators as victims in an uncaring world, how refreshing it is to see a man who is not afraid to shed light on his weaknesses! Furthermore, I found his chronicles of his urges and youthful sexual experiences fascinating rather than awkward.

You really walk away with a better sense of who this man is, rather than bogging us down with Asperger’s rhetoric. Some parts of the book were boring (like the passages that went on and on about classical music and the opera- Chapter 8 was particularly dry,) but if you indulge Page during the wordy parts, the rest of the memoir is incredibly rewarding.

 Parallel Play is honest and real where other memoirs are self-pitying and meandering. Tim Page has an incredible mind, and to read this book is to cast a deep, penetrating look into it. A slim volume, the book can be read in a couple days (incidently, I took longer) but you will not regret it. Tim Page should write another book for his fans!

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Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

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10-year-old Caitlyn Smith has always coped better with her older brother Devon by her side. For a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, support from friends and family is crucial, and Devon teaches her how to fit in in her small Virginia town. But now Devon is gone, his life taken senselessly by a school shooter, and Caitlyn must navigate the confusing and sometimes hostile world without Devon’s guiding hand. Like many people with Asperger’s, Caitlyn is a literal and black-and-white thinker, and as she struggles to understand her loss and grapples with making friends and learning empathy, she decides that ‘closure’ is something she and her father would very much like.

“Mockingbird” is lyrical and sweet, however brief. Caitlyn isn’t like a stereotypical Aspie with a robotic narration solving math problems in her head. Her voice is unique, faraway but strong and present, and she is a gifted artist. Tentatively at her counselor Mrs. Brooks’ urging she befriends a six-year-old boy whose mother was killed in the shooting, and learns to cope.

The author was inspired to write this book after the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre. The crime was terrible, of course, but these things seem to be becoming so common that they all just sort of blur together for me. I remember Sandy Hook particularly shook me up because the victims were little kids and it was unimaginable that a grown man would want to go in there and do that to a bunch of Kindergartners.

There’s a considerable lack of depth in the secondary players (and a little bit more development of Josh, the second most interesting character, might of been in order) but this may reflect Caitlyn’s lack of understanding of her family and peers. I found myself oddly unmoved by the emotional element, although the prose is well structured. I didn’t cry or even really get sad reading it. Instead, I appreciated it, but it failed to make me experience big feelings.

Kathryn Erskine has written a sensitive book, and she has created an Aut-Lit (Autism Spectrum literature) narrative that is well-done and original. If she had written a bit more or gone deeper into the psychological/social/family aspects, it might have gotten a 4 Star Rating from me. “Mockingbird” is short and sweet, but lacks the bite or depth to make it a classic.

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Mindblind by Jennifer Roy

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Fourteen-year-old Nathaniel Gideon Clark is a highly unusual boy with an off-the-charts IQ- loved but misunderstood by his mother, ignored by his father, and oblivious to social norms. For a brilliant kid with Asperger’s, a form of Autism,  life isn’t always easy. Between his fraught relationship with his father and his confusing crush on Jessa Rose, the beautiful singer of the band he and his friends share, simply existing provides Nathaniel with many challenges. But Nathaniel has a goal. He wants to achieve something BIG so he can be considered a genius. Nathaniel read in a book that one has to contribute something great to society to be a genius, and becoming one would contribute some validation to a kid who fights fiercely to be his own person.

“Mindblind” is a really cute book and a surprisingly sunny addition to the Aut-Lit genre. It’s certainly not as dark as House Rules or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, although I think The Curious Incident… was a more important literary work. While I couldn’t relate to Nathaniel’s incredible memory or gift for mathematics, I could relate to his mix of keen intelligence and cluelessness. I have always had a high reading comprehension level and a impressive vocabulary, but who can take a girl seriously who goes out with ratty hair, shoes on the wrong feet, holes in the pants? People have actually thought I was mentally retarded before.

Luckily I have supportive parents, unlike Nathaniel’s dad, who only looks to prove that his son is normal to his ridiculous self-help clients. This leads Steven Clark to force Nathaniel to go to a loud, noisy, and (unknown to Steven) drug and alcohol-hazed party, with disastrous results. Throughout the book Nathaniel has a lot of anger and hostility towards his dad, and I was actually expecting them to have a cuddly make-up session, but it never happened. Nathaniel stays mad at his father, but lets down his guard and allows himself to bond with his half-brother Joshua, who Nathaniel considers his father’s ideal son.

These scenes are really sweet. I would like Josh as a half-brother. He’s a irrepressible ball of energy, and Nathaniel resents him because he has taken up a spot in his father’s heart that Nathaniel can’t occupy. I thought the character development was pretty good overall. Nathaniel’s best friend Cooper is cool. You know as a math geek you’ve found a true friend when he loves the song you wrote, “Get Your Algebra On!” I also expected the song Nathaniel and Jessa Rose wrote about Asperger’s Syndrome to be brought into the plot somehow.

Nathaniel was really nervous about it being sung, so I was surprised when it was never performed by the group (with the plot directive of bringing Nathaniel out of his comfort zone.) Nathaniel is a little like Sheldon out of The Big Bang Theory but unlike Sheldon, I did not actively hope for Nathaniel to embarrass himself or suffer a painful injury. Nathaniel is someone I could actually imagine being friends with in the real world. Brilliant, brutally honest, and quirky, he is equal parts hard to relate to and hard NOT to relate to.

“Mindblind”‘s writing won’t blow you away, but it’s not a disappointment either. I think it did a better job at portraying Asperger’s than House Rules by Jodi Picoult because Nathaniel is less of a stereotype than Jacob, House Rules‘ Aspie. This book has feelings, realism, and even a little bit of romance. It is very recommend-able. Even if you can’t see yourself in Roy’s profoundly odd prodigy, Nathaniel, you should have fun reading it and recommending it to friends.

Rating-

4.0/5

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

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 I have a friend, who shall remain nameless for privacy purposes, who has an adolescent son with Autism. Whenever I saw him, he seemed so consumed in his own mind that I wondered what was going on there. What was he thinking? Since then, the otherwise-nonverbal son has started to express himself through paper and pencil. His mom now knows his inner world, at least, more so than she did before. His writing and spelling skills are virtually perfect, and he has an eidetic memory. He was locked within his mind for so long that one can only imagine the pleasure she gets out of seeing him express his feelings and emotions.

Thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida is a brilliant boy with Autism who offers us a rare glimpse into his private world in ‘The Reason I Jump,’ a book of questions and answers about people with Autistic Spectrum with Autism. As someone with (very mild) Asperger’s, I found myself relating to some of Higashida’s prose. My difficulties are not as challenging as someone who is severely on the spectrum (and I shouldn’t pretend like they are,) but I felt a pang of recognition at certain points; for instance, the passage about Higashida’s horrible sense of direction (when left on my own, I will get badly lost even in places I somewhat recognize.)

I found the foreword by writer and David Mitchell somewhat dry, and was offended by his  allegation that people with Autism are unable to understand what you’re saying, which is as detrimental as it is untrue. To be honest, there is an immaturity in some of Naoki Higashida’s writing, which is nearly inevitable considering the writer’s young age. When you compare him to an adult writer, it leaves you wanting a bit more from his writing style. When you match him up against his peers, however, his precociousness is impressive.

Above all, ‘The Reason I Jump’ was very eye-opening and informative. It is an explanation of everything from meltdowns, preoccupation with sameness, to extracurricular interests and the eponymous ‘reason we jump.’ Of course, Higashida’s reasons for classic Autistic behavior can seem a little too pat and cannot apply to everyone with the disorder, but it serves as a pretty good springboard for discussion about Autism and the understanding and treatment of people with disabilities in general.

At the end of the book, I was in for a treat. The final chapter, a short story written by the author titled “I’m Right Here,” showed a maturity and prowess beyond his years. Who says people on the Spectrum can’t be creative? The story, which compares Autism to being a recently dead spirit desperate to communicate with loved ones, is very touching and lovely. The writing is fluid and beautiful, and you cannot help but be moved as the main character faces an agonizing choice.

‘The Reason I Jump’ is utterly original, and will be a lifesaver for people struggling to understand their kids. I think Naoki Hagashida has a great career in front of him as a memoirist, a writer, and an advocate for the Autistic, especially those who can’t speak for themselves He is a boy of uncommon courage and candor, and what is there not to like about that? A powerful, however brief, read.

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Imagination (2007)

I’ll admit it, I didn’t come to this film with high hopes. I had seen Netflix reviewers trash it again and again, but I hoped that it would at least be original. By the middle, when the talking fruits showed up, I was waiting for the one hour ten minutes to end.

By the credits, I was wondering how such a horrific train wreck ever came into existence. There’s a vague possibility that this could have been a good, albeit strange, film. What went wrong? As it turns out, almost everything.

The plot (if you can call it that) follows two prepubescent girls named Anna and Sarah through their joined imaginary realities. Their parents are struggling — Sarah is nearly blind, and Anna has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. As their psychiatrist attempts to understand their increasingly bizarre fantasies, we watch dream-like sequences done through stop-motion animation and special effects. When tragedy strikes, the girls retreat further into their imaginations, causing the psychiatrist to wonder what the visions mean.

That’s pretty much the sum of the story, avoiding spoilers. It actually was an interesting idea, visualizing two introverted girls’ secret world. The result, however, is horrendous. First of all the acting is pathetic — it’s hard to watch. As you watch the actors’ pitiable attempts to be “emotional,” you wonder how they could have possibly set themselves up for this kind of humiliation.

It feels like the director went out to a local park, watched people for a while, and chose a few, asking them to be in a movie. They agreed, despite their complete lack of dramatic skills. The two girl’s performances are understandable — they’re still young, after all. However, watching the adults, especially the psychiatrist, desperately trying to play their roles leaves you shaking your head in horror.

The other problem with Imagination is that Anna’s “Asperger’s Syndrome” and Sarah’s blindness are pointless, more or less just there to rationalize bizarre dream sequences. What may have helped this film is to explain why the girls “live in a world all their own.” Anna, we are told again and again, “can’t socialize,” but we rarely see her interact with anyone in the film.

It would have been interesting — more interesting, perhaps, than the weird trip scenes — to try to explain Sarah and Anna’s need to go into their own realities. Ben X did this efficiently. We understood why the main character, Ben, became obsessed with the virtual world and tuned out of real life. Imagination, however, is obviously a miserable attempt to play with hallucinogenic effects and claymation, without a glimmer of character development or logic to make sense of it.

There is one good quality, however. Even though the filmmakers got so many other things wrong, their skills at claymation are apparent. One scene, in particular, is darkly creative and weird, in a good way. In this case, the bizarre imagery actually attracted my attention. It makes you kind of wish they had kicked out the actors and let the clay figures take center stage.

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend this movie to practically anyone, unless they are especially fond of weird for weird’s sake. Do not watch this looking for a realistic or informative view of Asperger’s — you won’t find it here. If you want something unusual, watch The Fall — in fact, watch practically anything else. Just stay far away from this bizarre, pointless mess of a movie.

Mozart and the Whale (2005)

In many books and movies dealing with autism and Asperger’s,  a related disorder, a scene is added where a person, generally a psychiatrist, explains the situation to another character.

This is most likely not added to aid character or plot development. Probably this part is there to help people who are not in the know about it, in other words, people who don’t get what these conditions are, so they’ll understand the story better.

In Mozart and the Whale, the main character, Donald (Josh Hartnett), pauses in the beginning to talk about life with Asperger’s. One might think these would be interesting, and a good departure from the “shrink explains” cliche, but actually it becomes rather irksome.

Judging from this movie, people on the autistic spectrum like nothing more than to sit around and discuss their conditions. Mozart and the Whale is a romantic drama based on the memoir of the same title, which I’ve never read. The main characters, Donald and Isabella (Radha Mitchell) have Asperger’s Syndrome and meet during a support group meeting. The film chronicles how their relationship begins and the difficulties of trying to coexist in a romantic situation on the autism spectrum.

Well, I’m guessing some people might have no clue what Asperger’s is. I suppose, though, by telling you, I will be making the same mistake the film did and boring people who already understand it. I guess the difference was that Donald was discussing this with fellow Aspergians who were already in a support group and probably didn’t need instruction.

Then again, maybe you don’t either. In that case, skip the following paragraphs and cut to the chase. Asperger’s, in short, is a difference in the mind that cause difficulties relating to people, and in some cases, uncommon reactions to certain stimuli. It’s related to a more commonly known condition, autism, but tends to be milder. People with Asperger’s have problems with social skills, have certain interests they dwell on, and don’t easily “change gears.”

Some of them are introverted, and others try to relate but come off as sort of odd. Introversion, possibly, could be a reaction to being misunderstood. Generally they are gifted and grow up to live more independently than people who are autistic. In the beginning of  Mozart and the Whale, Donald meets Isabella, a new addition to the support group. Isabella is a bright, excitable, and socially challenged artist who immediately tells fellow group members about being raped as a teenager.

Obviously she is angered when a severely autistic woman displays a grossly inappropriate reaction and begins laughing, although she doesn’t understand the woman’s problems or her own flawed behavior. Infuriated, she is stopped from leaving by Donald, who convinces her to keep going to meetings. One of the group members has a nervous crush on Isabella, but she is more interested in Donald. Soon, she invites him to a costume party, which he doesn’t arrive for.

She comes and knocks on his door dressed as Mozart, and he joins her to walk with her, him in a whale costume (hence the title). They spend time together, and even a near-breakdown from stimulus overload at the carnival doesn’t ruin the night. Before departing, they have their first kiss. After their bond deepens and they move in with each other, they start having problems in their relationship. Several times they leave each other but get back together.

However, problems arise when Isabella feels that Donald is unaccepting and is trying to”‘normalize” them for the outside world, and she and Donald break up. The two of them feel lost without each other and Isabella becomes suicidal, but they’re afraid to get back together. Mozart and the Whale is a okay movie, although at times it becomes irritating, especially at the beginning.

When we are first introduced to the main characters, the director seems to be afraid we’ll forget the condition of the group members, so we’re constantly hit atop the head with “autistic” symptoms. The characters mention their disorder just about every five minutes, and their “interests,” such as mathematics or art, seem so hackneyed that it’s difficult to relate to many of them.

On the plus side, the movie is made so that each person, in many ways, is vastly different from the others. Although they share Asperger’s, their general personalities and mannerisms are their own, though at times overdone. Actually, Donald and Isabella are not very alike, although they both lack proper social skills.

All in all, Mozart and the Whale seems like more of a tool to explain Asperger’s than a proper story. I don’t have the book to judge from, but the film is well-intentioned but plods heavily at times. It’s definitely not the worst view of the autistic spectrum, but it’s far from the best.

 

Ben X (2007)

Ben X, Belgian director Nic Balthazar’s film debut, is an ambitious drama exploring the autistic mind and how far harassment can go before the victim loses control.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Ben (superbly played by Greg Timmermans), a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who lives with his well-meaning mother and younger brother. Ben spends all his free time playing Archlord, a fantasy role-playing game where he becomes Ben X and plays alongside Scarlitte, a teenage girl who is impressed by his gaming skills. The game gives him a sense of purpose in a world that becomes increasingly out of control.

Ben’s life at school, quite simply, is hell. He is relentlessly tormented by two repugnant teenage boys. His teachers try to help him but are ineffectual. The situation worsens when an embarrassing prank perpetrated on him is videotaped and posted all over the internet.

Feeling that he has no where to turn, he hides what happened from his family and teachers and becomes increasingly disturbed and suicidal. Finally, close to breaking point, Ben decides to meet with Scarlitte, who is interested in visiting him in real life. Together with Scarlitte, his divorced father, and his desperate mother, he comes up with a bizarre plan to get back at his tormenters.

I waited a long time for this movie, and as it generally is in this case, was disappointed. Which isn’t to say thatBen X is a bad film. On the contrary, it has many good qualities. The main thing that struck me was that this is one of the first times a character on the autistic spectrum takes center stage and is treated as a person, not a plot device. Often, the character with autism is used to evoke feelings from the other people in the movie or to teach them what is really important in life.

This film, without avoiding the family’s perception of the situation, concentrates on Ben and his reactions to what’s happening around him. Secondly, the acting in Ben X is top-notch, especially from Greg Timmermans and Marijke Pinoy, as Ben’s mother. Greg Timmermans has excellent facial expressions and mannerisms, and in his and the directors hands, the main character becomes a real person.

Many scenes and situations in Ben X, however, are very melodramatic and over-the-top, but the ending is its greatest weakness. Alternately bizarre and unrealistic, it detracts from an otherwise good movie. The director seems to think that neatly tying things up is more important than realism, and it shows.

The film builds up a great deal of suspense and a foreboding that something terrible will happen, but seems to wimp out toward the end. I don’t enjoy depressing endings, but I felt that the conclusion wasn’t believable at all. I am bound to cut this film some slack, because there are so few movies about high-functioning autism and because I waited a long time to watch it. Although I think it was ultimately disappointing, it also did many things right and tried to do what most directors haven’t done effectively before.

Temple Grandin (2010)

“Temple Grandin” is a really interesting movie about a fascinating woman that allows us an inside look at an unknown world. This is a must-see for people struggling to understand loved ones with autism or for AS people themselves, because close family members will understand autism better and people on the spectrum might see themselves in the intrepid but troubled Temple.

“Temple Grandin” is the real-life story of the eponymous character, who struggles with severe autism from an early age, then goes on to become a pioneer in the cattle industry. Temple suffers from an autistic condition which deprive her of a ordinary childhood, but give her an astonishing and intuitive mind and a unique way of looking at things.

As a young woman, Temple (Claire Danes) stays at her aunt’s farm, where she becomes familiar with the cattle who live there. When she witnesses a cow being calmed by a squeezing machine, Temple is inspired — when she leaves the farm and goes to college, she builds her own ‘hugging machine’ to dilute the tension that most people relieve by giving and receiving hugs.

However, Temple’s new classmates and teachers don’t understand the relief Temple gets from her machine (instead thinking it’s something perversely sexual,) and she must fight for her right to express herself, a fight that continues throughout her life.

The film, which premiered on HBO, is based on Temple Grandin’s non-fiction books ‘Emergence’ and ‘Thinking in Pictures.’ As you may have heard before, Claire Danes nails it as Temple. I watched Mrs. Grandin in interview on the special features of the DVD the first time I watched this, and… wow. Mrs. Danes really emulates Temple’s speech and mannerisms.

I just hope the actress nails my speech in the upcoming biopic of my life (ha, ha.) The rest of the cast is good too. The film features some well known actors such as Julia Ormond as Temple’s courageous mother, Catherine O’Hara as her aunt, and David Strathairn as her teacher, who passes on important lessons to her.

I like the way the film visualizes the intricate workings of Temple’s mind so that I can understand them better. “Temple Grandin” is frank in the way that it deals with the bullies Temple must deal with on the road to success. Just think about it this way… are these people heard of except as bullies in an HBO TV film? They’re not even a name. The way I see it, Temple got the last laugh in the end.

This film is definitely worth watching, and will keep you intrigued throughout its running time. It definitely makes you think in terms of the people who you slight because you assume they are mentally retarded and have nothing to offer you, but are they?

Everyone assumed Temple was either crazy or stupid. Even her childhood doctor blatantly stated that she should be institutionalized and kept from tormenting the masses. And she turned out to be one of the great minds of her time. Anyway, you just never know. Have a great day, and don’t forget to comment *wink*!

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)

Gentle and bittersweet, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is the second movie adaptation of “Everything is Illuminated” author Jonathan Safron Foer’s novel. Although the movie is littered with stars such as Viola Davis, Tom Hanks, and Sandra Bullock, newcomer Thomas Horn steals the show in a flawless performance as Oskar Schell, a troubled eleven-year-old prodigy struggling with his dad (Hanks’) death in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Oskar could be rude, he could treat people sh**ty, but I immediately rooted for him. It helps that he reminded me of a friend of my brother’s I’m fond of. While Oskar’s dad was alive, he would send him on scavenger hunts. When Oskar rummages through his dad’s closet and finds a key with a word on it, Oskar believes his father wants him to find the lock the key belongs to.

Oskar probably has Asperger’s, and that becomes a factor as he travels through New York City battling anxiety, loud noises, and his own worst fears about Urban terrorism. Meanwhile, his well-meaning mother (Sandra Bullock) tries to get through to her angry loner son. I wasn’t sure about Sandra Bullock prior to this movie because I thought she was undeserving of the Oscar for “The Blind Side” but she was good here. You can’t help but feel for her when her son throws angry words in her direction.

Linda (the mom)’s unconditional love for her son touched me, as did her quiet grief, but Oskar and the otherwise unnamed ‘The Renter’ played by Max Von Sydow were my favorite characters. ‘The Renter,’ true to his title, rents a room from Oskar’s grandmother and accompanies Oskar on his perilous quest.

The only complaint I have with this movie is that the premise was very unrealistic. I mean, the word ‘Black’ that comes with the key could meet anything and Oskar is immediately on the right track. Not only that, but as Oskar looks for people with the last name ‘Black,’ he doesn’t even think that not only is ‘Black’ a ridiculously common name, but there’s no guarantee that if this ‘Black’ is a person, that they live in New York city!

I liked Oskar a lot. I liked his way of looking at things. Thomas Horn interpreted Oskar honestly and touchingly. This is one of the most underrated child performances of all time (probably because the movie wasn’t received well, for what reasons are mysterious to me.) I wanted him to be happy, and move beyond the tragedy of his dad’s death and the tragedy of 9/11 in general. Many lives were affected that day, and this movie offers sympathy to both the lives lost and those left behind.

To breach another subject, I thought the depiction of Asperger’s  was very good as someone diagnosed with the condition. The funny, idiosyncratic things Oskar said seemed very typical for someone with AS, while his social anxiety was easy to relate to. A lot of movies exaggerate AS symptoms for ‘Hollywood’ effect, making the hero some kind of head-banging, socially defective prodigy. I mean “Rain Man,” that was put out near the beginning of Autism research. But “Mozart and the Whale?” Seriously?

And let’s not forget how good the entire cast was throughout this movie. Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Max Von Sydow, Thomas Horn of course… they all played their roles wonderfully and were touching and likable. I’d say Von Sydow and Horn were the standouts among this amazing cast. Von Sydow as the silent renter had no spoken lines, but managed to convey emotion like a pro. I’m going to have to diverge from the critics and say this movie is absolutely worth seeing. It’s worth it.