In this week’s edition of the Summer Drive In series (dedicated to advancing your emotional education by investigating brilliant moments in film) we feature Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a heart wrenching portrayal of a young boy’s search for forgiveness. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are parents of young kiddo played by Thomas Horn. Kiddo seems to be somewhere on the spectrum; not socially adapted and extraordinarily smart. Hanks is the dream dad for him. He ‘gets’ this kids intelligence and creates a sanctuary for two against the confusing world wherein kiddo feels safe but also his imagination is engaged in a world of discovery carefully curated by loving father to help him with social skills. One day kiddo comes home from school to grab a snack and discovers THE PHONE. You know those old fashioned phones that used to sit ominously in the middle of the apartment just staring at us with all kinds of innuendo about the crush who was not calling, or the parties we were not getting invited to, for future memes about the cat who was going to eat us or the dog who would drag us out of our burning building because we lived a total loner existence and relied too heavily on our pets for emotional support, which may or may not work out for us, depending on dog (loyal rescuers) or cat (enemy in disguise lookin’ out for #1).
Anyhow the phone sitting with foreboding and foreshadowing in the middle of the apartment has an answering machine, another piece of archaic technology and it is blinking up a storm. Dad has called from The World Trade Center where he works and happens to be on this fated afternoon in September 2001. Dad knows it isn’t good, but he’s not gonna tell kiddo that he may be about to cross over into the afterlife because that’ll scare him. If memory serves me the message is a G rated version of things aren’t going so well don’t panic but if I don’t talk to you again I really love you chin up pal. Then the first terrible thing happens (by terrible thing I mean OVER AND ABOVE the obvious terrible thing that is the bombing of the two towers). Terrible thing ONE is that the phone, the wonderful old technology pick up and dial archaic land line cuts off the message. Just like that imperiled Dad is silent leaving our imaginations to run wild with fear and horror. But then EVEN WORSE thing number TWO happens. The phone rings. We know it’s Dad calling back. And, for some very confusing and obviously emotionally complex reason, kiddo does not answer the phone.
Let me just walk you through this. The phone rings after the last call has been cut off, which means that there is a good chance that this is the LAST TIME kiddo will ever talk to his beloved Daddy, and he just plain let’s the phone ring and ring and ring some more.
Oh no. Right? How terrible.
Now let me just pause us a sec to say this. We are dismayed. We are horrified. We don’t want it to go down this way, we, meaning the audience. But also we like get it. Dad getting blown up or burned to death or being crushed by falling debris is not an experience too many of us are equipped to deal with. Kiddo’s brain fires some risk benefit analysis and lands with I can’t do it. We are devastated Friends. DEVASTATED. Not with him, but FOR him. Man he’s vulnerable and loveable and the horror. Ugh. We are so so very sorry he has had to endure that kind of pressure and that kind of trauma and that kind of breakdown in his young mind.
Then Dad dies. Yep. He dies in 9/11. Kiddo doesn’t tell anyone about the call. What is there to say? He betrayed, rejected and abandoned the dearest love he had ever known. He ruined goodness, kindness.
He gets busy deeply deeply burying this shameful and horrific ‘truth’ in his perception and his psyche.
He begins to self harm. These are the scenes where I hide my wee eyes my lovelies. It is hard for me to watch. It goes on for a while, until one day kiddo finds a key in Dad’s closet with a piece of paper bearing the name ‘Black’. Kiddo puts together that Dad has left this for him as a puzzle that he must solve and that in solving this puzzle he can find redemption. And so he heads off to visit everyone in NYC with the last name Black in order to find the man he believes has the box to go with the key.
On the journey to a thousands Blacks kiddo meets people who show him kindness, and others who teach him hard lessons in compassion. And each time he receives some love or shows some he gets a little bit better. The harm stops.
Then one day he finds the right Black. A lot is riding on this moment. After some discussion it turns out that Black has the box, but the key was left to Black by his own deceased father, not to kiddo after all. It was accidentally purchased by kiddo’s dad in an estate sale. And low and behold, the box is empty.
They sit together in a moment of solidarity, kiddo and Mr. Black #1000.
And that is when it happens.
Kiddo says to Mr. Black #1000 “I need you to forgive me”.
This little line hits like a punch to the GUT my fellow movie lovers and truth seekers.
We The Audience are like “Oh my Lord little kid it’s not your fault that you didn’t answer your Father. You were terrified and confused.” Our responses to trauma are rarely poetic. But then also we The Audience are totally like “Oh but yeah we get it he needs to hear that he is forgiven so that he can perceive that he is innocent”. He needs to hear it.
Mr. Black #1000 is like “I forgive you.” Because he friggin’ gets it.
He gets it.
Good Friends I will now answer the riddle for you. I will solve the puzzle. I will tell you WHAT IS IN THE GOD FORSAKEN BOX.
We are. We are in the box.
We are the kiddo!!! You, me, humans basically. Citizens of The World.
Don’t pause for a washroom break now because this is the meaning of life I’m rolling on out for you to gulp down with your fountain soda and Smarties.
We are the kid who believes we have broken goodness. We believe that we somehow abandoned and betrayed in a moment when we were just confused and scared. And so we shoved that shit down. Down down down, buried under endless buttered popcorn and guilt.
This is the origin of pain and suffering —he cycle started like this and is illustrated brilliantly by this movie.
When we suffer, deep down we believe we have failed Love.
We hurt ourselves, in mysterious convoluted ways that aren’t even recognizable to ourselves.
And we seek an answer to an unsolvable problem that creates new and diverse unsolvable problems, like finding a Mr. Black among all of the Blacks in New York.
We tell ourselves that this is the path to redemption.
Redemption is there for the taking.
But not in the empty box.
It is there in the compassion and forgiveness we offer those who harm us.
And the love we accept along the way.
It is there in our gradual and eventual willingness to accept forgiveness of ourselves.
NOT because we are guilty.
We didn’t do the bad thing.
We were just kids. Children of creation who panicked one day.
WE NEED TO HEAR THAT WE ARE FORGIVEN IN ORDER TO PERCIEVE THAT WE ARE INNOCENT.
I forgive you Friend.
I forgive you right now for all of the heaviness you carry.
For all of the suffering you have endured.
For everything you have done or not done under the sun.
For every pain you have imagined and restitution you have demanded of yourself.
For hiding from Love because you confused it with Pain.
You can answer the phone now.
It’s LOVE on the line.
And unlike sad movie Dad he’s not going anywhere.
And MOM, well she is watching over us the whole time making sure we are protected, calling up all of the Blacks to prepare them for our arrival, connecting the dots, helping them help us help them. Camping out in our corner, making the bed and a holy sandwich.
— Love Erin
P.S. 2021 I am bringing on the love. I’ll be featured in a podcast all about better loving, from healing your broken heart to intentional dating to creating a relationship that thrives, and I’ll be launching a sister site for all of you relationship and love enthusiasts, with all kinds of insights and offerings. Stay tuned!
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.