Producer David Fincher and writer Eric Roth take us on an almost three hour journey through a two hour short story written long ago by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The end result is a tedious look at a not-so-interesting life.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" tells the life of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) spanning 84 years moving forward from birth to death, while at the same time his physical body ages in reverse. Born during the end of the "Great War" in 1918, Benjamin's mother dies during childbirth and his father abandons him after seeing that he is born as an old man in an infant's body. His father, in despair, leaves the newborn on the steps of a boarding house.
Benjamin is found by Queenie (Taraji Henson) who proceeds to raise him in the boarding house where she works as a domestic. It is here that Benjamin learns many of life's lessons, and where he meets the love of his life, Daisy (Cate Blanchett). Benjamin and Daisy's lives take many twists and turns through the depression, World War II, the 1960's, and end on Daisy's death bed in a hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina (an event that seems to have no discernable relationship to the story).
It is easy to understand how someone who does not look normal as a child would grow up with a less than well-developed sense of self-confidence. Such is the case of young Benjamin. But adding to his identity confusion is the fact that he is mistaken for an old man by others even though he is still at a young impressionable age, leading to incidents such as sexual exploits in a brothel. There are no redeeming relationships in his life that build Benjamin into a healthy young adult, except for the self-sacrificing love that he experienced from his adoptive mother, Queenie.
In a well-developed life, the experiences of childhood and young adulthood would prepare a person to be a self-sufficient, loving adult. Maturity comes from learning from the trial and error experiences of life. As one grows older, reflecting on the mistakes of one's youth, it is possible to become a person of some level of wisdom in the later years of life.
In "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," maturity is lost in the subplot of reverse aging. The "older" Benjamin grows, the "younger" his body becomes. And, since body function has a lot to do with the ability to think and reason, this story ends up with a life that is little more than that of a cooing child. While many people do end up in a childlike state at the end of their physical life, in the case of Benjamin Button, there is little to help us understand what this story plot meant to convey.
The entire film relies on the love of Benjamin and Daisy that occurs when they meet in the middle of their lives - his growing younger and hers growing older. It is here that two people in their early forties fall in love at the height of their physical attraction. Even so, there is little more shared than physical desire. It does not address what each one can teach the other or what holds these two people together solely based on a moment of sex.
The title of the film might better be written, "The Curious Case Of Why The Audience Stayed For Three Hours." What could have been an interesting tale is lost in computer graphics putting Brad Pitt's head on a small body, along with a moment of sexual tension between Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. With little else to share, this story wallows in technique and wades through a shallow life.
- If you were to live a reverse life in which you grew younger, what would you expect? What unique perspective would you have to offer others? Why do you think Benjamin has little to offer?
- The love which Benjamin has for Daisy is complicated by their opposing physiological changes. How do you think such a complication would affect your love relationship?
- Various theories of time have considered the possibility of time going in reverse. Do you think this is possible? Why or why not?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.