Having not seen the Curious Case of Benjaimin Button at the cinema and waiting until now and the dvd release I feel like a slight fraud for being a fan of David Fincher and Brad Pitts previous works the incomparable neo noir Fight Club and the brutal detective thriller Se7en. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is both a huge daprture for David FIncher as a director relying far more in this movie on substance rather than the style of his previous works but also as step in a far maturer direction for both its director and its star. Far more than a contrived attempt at awards and prizes its far more than the su of its parts a splendidly made & constructed film based on a profoundly original premise and one that like Fight Club and Se7en could of faltered in the hands of a more inexperienced and flamboyant director in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button the astounding special effects that take Brad pitt’s Benjamin from a crippled old man at the age of 7 to the ages less more familiar Pitt of Thelma and Louise and his earlier films is a wonder to behold and does’nt seem to overwhelm the story and anrrative itself merely serving to highlight the poignancy of a truly original and at times heart wrenching story particuarly in its final act . It simply tells the story of a man who is old when he is born and an infant when he dies but it is the journey he goes on and the people he meets that truly astounds. All those around him, everyone he knows and loves, grow older in the usual way, and he passes them on the way down. As I watched the film, I became consumed by a conviction that this was simply wrong and began to feel a compassion for not only the character of Bnejamin Button but for the people he would ineveitably lose and for the one person who would lose him in a predicatable and ridiculous but still wrenchingly moving sequence in its final scenes. Its a credit to Fincher that he stayed true to the story and did not malign the emotion of the characters and their relationships in favour or an old man grows young comedic vehicle. It does contain moments that will make you smile, moments of brilliantly underplayed comedy by Pitt in particular as he grows to understand the world being viewed as an old man when in reality he is 20 years old and takes to tasks and his various jobs over the years with the vigour and vitality of a 20 year old in the body of an old man……. it is both funny at times moving and attimes ridiculous but this is all part of the charm of The Curious case Of Benjamin Button.
Let me paraphrase the oldest story I know: In the beginning, there was nothing, and then God said, “Let there be light.” Everything comes after the beginning, and we all seem to share this awareness of the direction of time’s arrow. There is a famous line by e.e. cummings that might seem to apply to Benjamin Button: and down he forgot as up he grew. But no, it involves the process of forgetting our youth as we grow older.
We begin a movie or novel and assume it will tell a story in chronological time and in a certain order it is with some of Hollywoods greatest talents that narrative is successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully thrown out of the window – Christopher Nolan with the memory loss thriller Memento, Quentin Tarantinos Pulp Fiction with its 3 overlapping story arch structure and indeed in Finchers own Fight Club with the ditortion of reality suffered by an insomniac schizophrenic Edward Norton and Brad Pitt being in two places at once but never knwoing they’re there. . Flashbacks and flash-forwards, we understand. If it moves backward through a story (Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal”), its scenes reflect a chronology seen out of order. If a day repeats itself (Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day”) and the Gwyneth Paltrow Rom com – drom Sliders, each new day begins with the hero awakening and moving forward. If time is fractured into branching paths (" New York"), it is about how we attempt to control our lives. Even time-travel stories always depend on the inexorable direction of time and its distortions using subtitles or visual gimmicks to let us know as the audience where we are and indeed when we are. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button does this but does it in away that never seems to convolute or over complicate the story or in a way that other films seem fit to treating the audience as the lowest common denominator and simplifying things with obvious cues to the time and place – Subtitles – New York 1969 for example. David Fincher uses culture and visuals that never take away from the story as a whole and in some ways serve the story by defining what generation the characters are in, Button goes through the second world war as a veteran at only 27 years old, he sees the 60’s and the Beatles on televisions as a youth at 47 years old it is this that epitamises the charm of this movie it never takes its audience for granted.
Yes, you say, but Benjamin Button’s story is a fantasy. I realize that. It can invent as much as it pleases. But the film’s admirers speak of how deeply they were touched, what meditations it invoked. I felt instead: Life doesn’t work this way. We are an observer of our passage, and so are others. It has been proposed that one reason people marry is because they desire a witness to their lives. How could we perform that act of love if we were aging in opposite directions? is one question proposed and in some ways answered if something as trivial and superficial as a movie can hold the answers to some of lifes most important questions than Benjamin Button if not nailing the answers certainly does its best effort to ask its audience questions of not only themselves but of life and what we want and take for granted in general. In the film, Benjamin (Brad Pitt) as an older man is enchanted by a younger girl (Cate Blanchett). Later in the film, when he is younger and she is older, they make love. This is presumably meant to be the emotional high point & culmination of the build up of their characters relationship and growing understanding from Blanchetts characters of Buttons desease. It is both moving and a pivotal part of the film thats sets up the emotional third act.
Pitt nominated for best actor and (controversially) may possibly have deserved it because of his heroic struggle in the performance. Yes, he had to undergo much makeup, create body language and perform physically to be manipulated by computers but he portrays the Ages of Man with much skill and I for one as an audience member felt invested in the character and his story and by the end was moved by his plight and sympathised with his character and the characters around him as he sees loved ones die and move on before eventually succumbing tot he inevitable it is in the final sequences that the film makes sense, making light of Benjaimins transition into childhood with all the tantrums and melodrama of any pre pubescant youngster its the fact that he ahs lived such a life full of wonder and magic and experience that makes these scenes not so much funny but heart wrenchingly sad particular when he nolonger remembers Daisy and the women he feel inlove who has aged to an old women reflecting a mirror reverse image of the opening scenes when Benjaimin was introduced to Daisy as an old man and she was a young girl it gives the film an ironic finality and because of the events of everything in between is an incredibally moving sequence.
The film was directed by David Fincher, no stranger to labyrinths (“Zodiac,” “Fight Club”). The screenplay is by Eric Roth, who wrote “Forrest Gump” and reprises the same approach, by having his hero’s condition determine his life experience. To say, however, that Roth “adapted” the original short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald would be putting it mildly. Fitzgerald wrote a comic farce which Roth and Fincher have made a forlorn elegy. Roth’s approach makes Benjamin the size of a baby at birth. Fitzgerald sardonically but consistently goes the other way: The child is born as an old man, and grows smaller and shorter until he is finally a bottle-fed baby. Not much is said about Benjamin’s mother, which is a pity, because he is 5-feet-8 at birth, and I wonder how much pushing that required. The film in my opinion is worthy of being in my top 30 films & was alot more and in some ways not what I was expecting when I sat down to watch another David Fincher/Brad Pitt vehicle substance over style, Story over gimmicks, treating the audience with an obvious respect it plays like a film that I think deserved its hype and indeed Oscar and awards nominations if only for its honesty and warmth…… All in all a magnificent achievment by David Fincher and his cast and one that I think will stand the tests of time in years to come and maybe even age backwards much in the same way as Benjamin Button. *
JAMES HOSKINS © NW& Publishing web review.