It’s funny how a good movie can fly under the radar. Well, for me, under the radar means not seen in theaters. Mostly, I blame the trailers for either misrepresenting the movie or not being where I can see them. This also happened to me with respect to There Will Be Blood (2007). Just couldn’t pull together my interest. I can’t quite recall why I didn’t see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). I don’t even remember a trailer. Perhaps that and an inscrutable poster/DVD cover kept my interest very low. In their defense, I don’t have any clear alternatives.
Benjamin (Brad Pitt) was born old. I know the feeling. But unlike me, he is aging backwards. Also unlike me, he never seems to go through a period in his life with excess fat. Left on the steps of a retirement home, Benjamin grows up around death and transition. It’s there that he meets Daisy (eventually played by Cate Blanchett) where they share some childhood moments. Benjamin keeps de-aging and life continues and death continues. His trials and tribulations with Daisy come and go until it’s all over. And there’s a clock involved.
This movie, unlike most, is quite literary. It’s a thinker. Unlike Equus, which slapped you in the face (in a good way) with some things to think about, this movie just gives you the situation and a couple of nuggets of interestingness and lets you ruminate on it. It’s about aging, death, and relationships, so there’s plenty to ruminate on. None of the characters have much fear of death, so it’s not the gloomy side that you have to face, it’s that beautiful, mysterious side. Like Meet Joe Black (1998).
The very last stages of Benjamin’s life seem just a little off. The most interesting part of the story, to me, is how Benjamin dies. Getting old is boring and sad. It’s a slow, regular downward slope. That’s why you have to jump years forward in order to keep an interesting pace. It lends itself to the ending of movies that can montage their way into some larger meaning or wrap-up.
But youth is full of milestones and changes. To skip a year or two requires a change in casting, not just prosthetics. A genius screenwriter would have taken that and flipped the conventional form of a movie on its head and dragged out the ending. It’d be a tall order to be able to make that entertaining, but a genius would have found a way. I’m also not entirely satisfied with how they dealt with his mind as he became a child. The problem is that a child’s mind is incredibly powerful and our inability to recall memories from childhood aren’t less reflective of our capacities at the time than of our decrepit present. Still, my way doesn’t really tie it up in a bow the way they did it.
That’s not to take away from what Eric Roth did. It’s a very good screenplay with humor and pathos and kept things from being boring at any point. But the crux of the film, I think, is how it ends. This is, after all, a movie almost exclusively about death (and it’s brighter coin partner, life). I would also pick a nit on the button issue. Benjamin comes into the family business (buttons) but it’s dealt with so minimally, I found it unfair to illustrate the studio logos with the objects. Did not compute.
David Fincher is a noteworthy director. His projects cover such a wide spectrum and he does them all rather well. There are times in all of them where I think “Man, that’s good.” I think that it’s because he has an eye for beautiful things. Not necessarily conventional images of beauty, though The Curious Case of Benjamin Button certainly includes examples of that, but also in sadness. He’s not so masterful as to make death beautiful, but I think he can be forgiven for that. In any case, he can capture that beauty. Very good.
Everyone does well. I don’t think, as the DVD cover suggests, that this is Pitt’s best work and certainly isn’t Blanchett’s, but they are well above average. They’re job was to sell the premise while also giving a slightly more realistic Forrest Gump kind of story. I say realistic, but I might really mean “human.” They took it seriously and the movie was far better for it.
IMDB puts this under “mystery.” Curious though the case may be, I feel it is more of an instance than a study. Quibble though I feel you may, the mystery of life does not use the word in the sense usually ascribed to genre.
Well, now I’ve seen it, I suggest you see it too. Or own it.