Extremely Upset and Incredibly Angry: An Open Letter to Stephen Daldry

by: Addison Bell

Mr. Daldry,

I have a tremendous distaste for film adaptations of novels. When I find out that one of my favorite books is being made into a movie, I squirm and yell profanities. It irks me because great novels should be left alone. It seems to me that Hollywood—greedy, greedy Hollywood—just wants to get its hand on anything that will bring in money. So when I heard that Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, was being made into a movie, my heart sank and I felt nauseous. You may find this ridiculous, but I have my reasons.

There are few books that genuinely speak to me or, in some instances, become a part of me. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of those books. Sometimes people ask me why I fill the empty spaces of my room with my favorite novels. It’s because when I look at one of them, I remember reading it for the first time; I remember what I felt and what I was going through. When I look at The Bell Jar, I think of my senior year of high school when I was slowly slipping into my first depression (it probably wasn’t the best book to be reading at the time); a glace at The Perks of Being a Wallflower reminds me at 17, sitting in a park in St. Louis, reading and feeling nothing but hope and possibility; when I hold my copy of Ned Vizzin’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story, I’m taken back to my second semester of my freshman year of college after I tried hurting myself and in counseling everyday. Books, as you can see, are a huge part of my life. They act at memory keepers and help me remember who I am.

It’s hard to describe what Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close means to me. The first time I read it, I was going through a very rough time in my life. I was 19 and everything was dark. There are moments in life, brief or long, when everything—including yourself—feels completely numb. Days pass by you in a haze and time doesn’t really seem to exist. Sometimes you’re willing to do anything to feel something—even if that something is pain, emotional or physical; sometimes both at the same time.

But if you are fortunate enough, you can turn the numbness into something quite lovely and meaningful. When I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I felt human. If anything, it made feel, which was something that I thought I had forgotten how to do. The novel is one that stays with you. It’s strange how something so small can contain so much. When reading it, I felt so much sadness and grief, but at the same time, I was overwhelmed with happiness and hope. It’s a novel about love—so much love—and the pain and joy that comes along with it. Sometimes when I’m down, I think of this novel and I have the sudden urge to walk the streets of Chicago with a tambourine in hopes of making people smile. I think about this and it makes me happy. It was happiness that I felt the most when reading Foer’s novel. It was what I needed, because I hadn’t felt that in some time.

Perhaps now you can understand as to why I was so upset and enraged when I found out that novel was going to be made into a movie. So many books have been ruined because of their film adaptations. I mean, look what happened to Running with Scissors and The Scarlet Letter. However, there are exceptions. This is why I felt a glimmer of hope when I found out that you were directing the movie. I think The Hours is a great film adaptation of a novel, and I also thought The Reader stayed true to the book. But despite your work, I am still worried.

My biggest problem with film adaptations is that not many people read the novel after seeing the movie. It doesn’t really matter if the film is great or horrible — because people would rather spend two hours invested in a story than days or weeks (sometimes months). In an ideal world, people will see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and be so amazed and blown away that they will rush to bookstores (or to their Kindles) and begin reading Foer’s novel. I truly believe that if everyone did so, the world would be a better place.

But this will not happen and it’s such a shame. Like I said, some novels are so perfect that they need not to be touched. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of those novels. It’s a story that that is fantastical and whimsical, but also realistic, and I’m afraid that when people see your film they will not understand what Foer accomplishes in his novel. I already know that I will not like your film, but don’t take offense…yet. You see, I have already crafted my own film version of the novel in my head. That is the beauty of Jonathan Safran Foer. He writes with such detail and imagery that you can’t help but to not create your own images. This is why I will not be the only one disappointed when I see your film.

Yet, I do want your film to be great—not for me, but for everyone who is unfamiliar with the story. I want it to be one of those films that lingers with people. Who knows, maybe people will sit in the theatre long after the film is over and think, “Oh my, what just happened? Why do I feel so sad and happy at the same time?” It’s how I feel every time I watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I’m counting on you to make it as great. Even if people don’t read the book afterwards, I want them to love Foer’s story and everything that it stands for. Too many novels are ruined because of their film versions, and I don’t know what I would do if people saw your movie, hated it, and treated Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as garbage. I really don’t.

Metacritic has given your film an average rating of 43 out of 100. The New York Times called it “an impossible movie that has no reason for being other than as another pop-culture palliative for a trauma it can’t bear to face.” Time called it “a pity party.” The Onion’s A.V. Club gave it an F. This is not what I want to hear and I’m feeling nauseous again. It seems to me that you have you taken something so delicate and tragic and have exploited it. I don’t want people to see your film and mindlessly weep and feel sorry for themselves. But according to several reviews, this is what you have done. In all honesty, I try not to listen to critics, because sometimes they are wrong. Yet, I can’t help but to think that it would be more of a tragedy if people called this movie “the 9/11 movie” — because that is not what this story is about. It’s about all different kinds of losses and loves, and coping with death and grief, and finding hope when it seems impossible. I strongly hope that you understand this and that you see what I see when I read this book.

Mr. Daldry, I’m already extremely upset that you chose to make this film, but I sincerely hope that you don’t make me and so many others incredibly outraged by the outcome.


Addison Bell

Addison Bell is a senior at DePaul University where he is studying English Literature. He is the President of Oxfam DePaul and volunteers with Oxfam America, an organization dedicated to ending world hunger, poverty, and social injustice. Follow him on Twitter @boy_1904 and on Tumblr: colourmegreenwich.tumblr.com.


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