This past Easter weekend, I bought an on-demand movie called “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” for my parents and I to enjoy together. The movie was about one family’s experience during the 9-11 terrorist attacks. I did not intend for my children to watch this movie with us.
But soon after the movie started, racing little footsteps pound up the stairs into the TV room. My 8 year old daughter put her head on my lap and snuggled up next to me. My 9 year old son, hearing the young narrating voice of child actor Thomas Horn, got curious and started watching the movie with us too. My kids have always been drawn to movies, plays, and musicals starring other kids.
The thought of shooing them away did cross my mind because of the adult themes in the movie. But the movie was rated PG-13 and had Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in it, two extremely classy actors who have been in a host of heart-warming, family friendly movies. Moreover my children did not seem upset by the haunting scene in the beginning of the towers crumbling to the ground. So … I let them stay. My husband and I had told them about 9-11 before. It was not totally outside their realm of awareness.
As the movie continued, I became increasingly uncomfortable watching this movie with the kids. The child who is grieving the loss of his father at one point in the movie completely loses it, screaming at his mother, “I wish it were you in the building, not him!”
A few times the child is seen twisting and pinching the skin on his torso to mutilate his body. “What is he doing?” my son asked me. I reluctantly explained that sometimes kids hurt themselves if they feel really sad or mad at themselves. My husband from another room loudly interjected, “It’s a really stupid thing to do and if you EVER feel like doing something like that, you need to tell someone IMMEDIATELY!” I could not believe we were having this discussion. It was too much, too early. I wished we could rewind the evening. I was caught completely unawares.
The next day I asked my kids what they thought of the movie. I wanted to see if there were any parts that disturbed them, any parts that needed explanation. Although they followed the movie’s plot in a way I did not think they would they were surprisingly okay. Instead of the tragic and disturbing parts of the movie, my children concentrated on the unlikely budding friendship between the boy and his grandfather. My daughter thought it was funny that the grandfather did not speak but rather wrote down all of his thoughts on paper. My kids were also fascinated by the boy himself – a quirky, but intelligent outspoken determined creative person who goes on an elaborate quest all over the city to find the lockbox for a key in his father’s closet. Fortunately, it seems that the psychologically harrowing parts of the movie went straight over their heads. No damage had been done – THIS time.
Our family movie night watching “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” rudely woke me up to the fact that I need to pay more attention to what my kids see. I can no longer carelessly turn on the TV in their presence. I wish filmmakers had to reveal any topics that might be inappropriate for children. It would have been helpful to know that self-mutilation appeared in the movie. Better yet, I wish I had had the benefit of other parents’ input on this movie (and others). Parents may have widely varying opinions about what they believe is appropriate for their kids. But hearing their different views and the reasons for them would help me come to my own conclusions. I would put much more weight on what my fellow Darien parents think of a particular film than what the movie promoters say any day.
Next question: Am I going to let my kids watch “The Hunger Games”, another PG-13 movie? My personal opinion based on reading the book and researching the film: No way Jose.
Editor's note: This blog post originally was published on Wednesday, April 11. The time stamp has been changed for layout purposes on the Home page of Darien Patch.