However, we recently decided to watch it… and were captivated from the start. It’s a sad, tense opening as we meet young pre-teen Oskar (Thomas Horn) grieving the loss of his father. We soon learn that he died in the Twin Towers attack in September 2001. Oskar is a highly sensitive child, evidently on the autistic spectrum although, as he tells someone later, tests for Asperger’s Syndrome were inconclusive. He struggles to deal with loud noises and finds it difficult to understand strong emotion.
The early part of the film is confusing chronologically; we see Oskar’s memories with his father (Tom Hanks), interspersed with the day everything changed, and his day-to-day life. His father and he do ‘quests’ or ‘challenges’ together, often based on unlikely stories, but giving Oskar a chance to communicate with strangers.
Oskar and his mother (Sandra Bullock) have a difficult relationship, made all the worse by their bereavement, and their reluctance to talk about it. But, a year after what Oskar calls ‘The Worst Day’, he goes into his father’s closet - unchanged, in a year - and by chance discovers a key. This leads him to what he believes is another vital ‘quest’, one that he hopes might help him make sense of what happened.
Much of the film is taken up with Oskar’s travels and interviews, which he records in detail in a scrapbook. It’s the story not just of the quest but of Oskar’s own growth in confidence, and his relationships with several other people, particularly family members. It’s beautifully done. Despite a cast featuring famous names, young Thomas Horn is the real star of this film. We wondered why he was not better known. Apparently he had never acted before, and was chosen after a stunning performance on a TV quiz show. He is a natural for this role, showing emotion and fear in his expressions, and with excellent timing. His rapport with other characters is excellent, particularly with ‘The Renter’ (Max von Sydow) whose real relationship with Oskar is immediately apparent to the viewer.
Despite an unusual and essentially tragic plot, the film is mesmerising. The pace is perfect. The viewer sees Oskar’s confusion and need for some kind of closure, rooting for him to find it. The ending is perhaps a tad sudden, but I’m not sure how else it could have been done.
The rating is 12 in the UK, PG-13 in the US. I was a little surprised at this; there are no intimate or nude scenes, no overt violence, and bad language is only hinted at. I assume the rating is due to the overall emotion and the traumatic content of the start of the film, and I certainly wouldn’t want an over-sensitive child to see it. But I would have expected the censors to rate it PG.
The only ‘extra’, other than language options, is one about finding Oskar. It has brief interviews with the director and some of the other actors, explaining how they worked with him as he knew nothing about films or acting beforehand.
Very highly recommended.
Review by Sue F copyright 2017 Sue's DVD Reviews