A Myth Misread

When the Oscar nominations were announced this week, the most controversial was the inclusion of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” among the nine movies up for Best Picture. Many critics hated it (it’s running a 47 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes). I did not. And I am right.

The biggest criticism is that the film, which follows a boy named Oskar as he roams New York searching for the owner of a mysterious key after his father dies in the World Trade Center, makes treacle out of 9/11. That’s a misreading. The movie is not about Sept. 11. The movie is a myth, and, like all myths, it requires magic. Let me be clear: I am not saying 9/11 is a myth in a conspiracy-theorist kind of way. I am not saying that Sept. 11 somehow didn’t happen. But the terrorists attacks have become part of our national mythology in the sense that they have seeped into the bones of what it means to be an American. Since that day, we have become a different people.

That’s echoed in the film through Oskar, who so longs for his father’s death to have a reason and a purpose. There are coincidences that, yes, would never happen. But if people were willing to accept that coincidence is part of this archetype, they’d see a story of a boy searching a cruel world for logic and instead finding magic, and they’d find the magic, too.

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