The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Directed by David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a marvelous and peculiar film about a man who ages backwards. Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the screenplay really doesn’t withhold anything from the short except the reverse-aging aspect. That being said, screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and director David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac) team up and create an epic tale that explores the life of Benjamin Button.
So what’s it like to age backwards? I can’t imagine the possibility of a man aging backwards fitting into society so smoothly like Benjamin Button did. There should be a whole new set of rules for a man with this type of bizarre situation, but instead he is accepted by his peers and his family. He’s looked upon more with amazement than as a freak-showcase. And for the most part he is encountered by generous and kind people throughout his life.
Although he puts his elderly years behind him early on, he can’t look forward to turning youthful. He experiences the pain of losing his friends within his first ten years. And for the people who he grows close to, he understands it’s only temporary. They’re walking in opposite directions on the life spectrum, and no force can prevent someone from getting older, or turning Benjamin younger. Benjamin Button is one of a kind, but along with everyone else he experiences love, lust, loss, curiosity, responsibility, and pain.
There is a lot, and I mean A LOT, of detail put into this spectacular film. The way New Orleans looked in 1918, the progress of America through the year 2005, the way Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett played young and old Benjamin and Daisy, respectively. Fincher’s technique of pitch-perfect effects to illuminate reality during such a fantasy film is a triumph. And the way that the effects were so subtle… while watching the film I didn’t give it much thought because I was too wrapped up with the story… but thinking about it afterwards, it’s jaw-dropping.
It must’ve been such a difficult role for Pitt to play an old man with the innocence of a child. He’s eager to run and play but is limited by his physical deterioration, and Pitt expressed that. And while he’s in his twenties living with the love of his life, he has the wisdom way past what his youthful face displays. Cate Blanchett worked well with Pitt, but her character wasn’t as compelling and therefore neither was she. Pitt is the one who really shines in this film. This might be his best acting performance in his entire career. To be able to lead a film with this much power and play a character that has never been done before, Pitt should be credited highly for his ability to do all of this successfully.
This isn’t a traditional Fincher film who have dealt with the theme of obsession with a male-heavy cast for his films (Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac). Here he strips all of that aside and tells the adventure of Benjamin Button. He also enters an area he’s not known for, romance. The love story between Benjamin and Daisy overpowers the rest of the psychological characteristics of aging backwards. Because simply put, Benjamin and Daisy meet when they were both children… and they share a large portion of their life with each other. But they can only find love when they both seem to be at the same age. The love that they share is truly felt and it’s only more heart-breaking when you know it’s impossible for them to work it out.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button doesn’t cast the reverse-aging aspect as a gimmick; instead it uses it to enable a unique perspective on life and the unpredictability of its course. It blends the curiosity of knowing one’s fate with the strength to allow the universe to tug on your hand and willingly go wherever it leads you. This is without a doubt one of the best movies of the year.