The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Review

Life and love in reverse

Director: David Fincher
Notable Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson

I’ve only read one work of F. Scott Fitzgerald and it wasn’t for leisure. It was the classic The Great Gatsby, a novel that irked me in high school because I didn’t care about the symbolic nature of the color green. Later I did discover that the author knew what he was doing; the way he could capture the beauty of a moment with a simple sentence or phrase. Filmmakers have tried to recreate his works on the silver screen only to have the final product be nowhere close to the material adapted. Curious it is then that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button strays far from the actual source material, yet hits on many of Fitzgerald’s themes and also captures the tone of several works.

For this loose adaptation we have the combined talents of screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and director David Fincher. In the realm of contemporary filmmakers, Fincher is near the top of this list with works like Seven and Zodiac, and the cult-hit sensation Fight Club. At the outset we are in the year 2005, in the city of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina is barreling her way towards the shore. A frail, dying woman named Daisy (Cate Blanchett) lies in her hospital bed. Her daughter (Julia Ormond) is by her side, reading the contents of a diary from one Benjamin Button.

Benjamin’s story is like peering into a looking glass. It covers much of the twentieth century, beginning with his birth on the day World War I ended. We are observers to Benjamin’s travels: the Depression, WW II, all the way to the 1980s. Looking at the screenwriter you’d think Button was another rehashing of the Forrest Gump outline. Only Fincher doesn’t directly involve Benjamin in moments of grand historical significance. It’s not like he somehow stumbles into Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, or appears on a late-night television program with some famous rock star.

Benjamin doesn’t crave attention, but there are those who can’t help but stare. For Benjamin is a man who steadily grows younger with each passing year. At birth he has the appearance of a wrinkled old man; a disgusting sight to his father who whisks him away and abandons him in front of an old folks’ home. Talk about ironic. Taking him in and raising him as if he were her own son is Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), the home’s caretaker.

She does the boy right, taking him to church, making sure he stays out of trouble. Benjamin has a few lapses in the decision-making area but he means well. At the age of seventeen he sets out on his own. Benjamin works on a tugboat, sees the world, and meets interesting people. But while Benjamin is thousands of miles away from the States, he still carries a love in his heart. Her name is Daisy.

They met one summer in the old folks’ home, he looking like an old man and she a little girl. Though technically the same age, it’s still creepy thinking about any festering relationship. Innocent and sweet, both would have several reunions over the years. After false starts and misunderstandings they finally get together, their ages in the middle. Love is never easy, and considering their circumstances it’s even harder to hang on.

You may very well be bowled over by the visuals of Benjamin Button. The aging factor of Benjamin’s old wrinkled body as a newborn and all throughout childhood (not to mention Daisy’s transformation as she grows older) is as cutting edge as it comes. Credit to David Fincher for getting the most out of actors Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The digital effects and prosthetics are impressive but they don’t outweigh the emotional core of the characters.

Outside of Benjamin and Daisy don’t overlook the visuals of the different eras represented. Fincher’s canvas consists of the Depression-era South, 1950s Paris, suburbia in the ’60s and ’70s. Each location has a moment that embraces Fitzgerald’s prose or tone. Fincher even incorporates different styles of film. In one of the earlier flashbacks I honestly thought there was something wrong with the reel as the picture looked damaged and the sound wasn’t of the utmost quality.

Clocking in at close to three hours, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a short story that’s been expanded to a complete novel. At no point is the film dull. It’s a romantic epic that avoids being overly dramatic or oversaturating the sentimentality. The film works on many levels often provoking happiness, depression and confusion. Sort of like love and the challenges presented. It’s another strong work for director David Fincher – maybe his masterpiece. Definitely worth experiencing.


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