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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

| December 31, 2008 | 0 Comments

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one of the most confounding pieces of screen writing that I have experienced in quite a while. Here is a movie built on the idea of a man who has the most phenomenal affliction in human history and surrounds him with characters that treat it as if it were a new haircut.

The man is Benjamin (Brad Pitt) who is was born in 1918 the size of a normal infant but possessed all the infirmities of a man in his 80s. He ages in reverse (apparently though a magic of a clock that runs backwards) and through the progress of this affliction, we see him spend his toddler years in a nursing home with wrinkles and liver spots then grow into his middle age and on down to his youth and develop the feeble mind of an elderly man when he reaches his preteen years.

At birth his mother dies and his father gives him away to a nursing home where he is cared for by the loving caretaker Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). All around Benjamin are elderly tenants like himself who die with a sad regularity. Benjamin notices those around him getting older while at the same time his skin clears, his stooped walk straightens and he has fewer aches and pains.

Somewhere in this elderly state, he meets a child named Daisy who will become his lifelong love. She arrives in his life periodically on her way to be a great ballet dancer. We know, inevitably, that they will be in love and that their best moments will take place when they eventually reach the same age. We wait patiently for the two to seriously begin discussing his bizarre aging process but when they do, they don’t discuss it with any depth or any reason. They might as well have been discussing their wedding day.

No one else really gets to the business of questioning Benjamin’s predicament either and that’s troubling because here is the most amazing thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe, a man is aging backwards and all through the movie, those closest to Benjamin treat this incredible miracle as if it weren’t all that unusual. This is absolutely the wrong note on which to approach this premise. All through the movie I kept waiting for a doctor to examine Benjamin and turn him into a bit of medical history, but no, we follow his life’s journey as he takes a job working on a tugboat, fights in the second world war and eventually shares a brief love affair with Daisy. Ho-hum.

The fact that Benjamin’s journey through life is so ordinary and unexceptional makes his aging process seem all the more like a movie gimmick. The story was written by Eric Roth who also adapted Forrest Gump, another story of an afflicted man’s journey through life. But while Forrest dealt with his affliction and used it as a catalyst for an extraordinary life, Benjamin just seems to be running out the clock. We know what will happen to him (which is extraordinary when it finally happens) but what happens in between is paced so slowly and features events that are so unexceptional that we feel like we’re following his life in real time.

Benjamin Button was directed by David Fincher, a brilliant talent who has made films that I have loved like Se7en, Zodiac and Panic Room and some that I didn’t like Fight Club and Alien 3. What all of these films have in common is a bold visual style that’s fun just to look at. He has made bad films but he has never made a boring one. What he achieves with Benjamin Button is a different visual palette for every decade of Benjamin’s life and an amazing array of visual effects to transform the tall, good looking Brad Pitt into a doddery old man who is about 5 feet tall and carries him through all the stages of the man’s reversed age. But all the special effects and make-up don’t mean a thing if there isn’t a workable story to put around them and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button contains a lackluster story within an extraordinary idea.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2008) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasty