The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is very curious indeed. Despite the fact that I quite enjoyed myself while watching the film, the most curious thing about it is why they bothered to make a film with this interesting of a premise and then hardly explore it at all. The film still has something to say, but it was an immense let down for me to go into this film ready to be amazed at the implications of Brad Pitt aging backwards and to end up with the tired old cliche that it doesn’t matter, he still has a life like any other.
This is because Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is not aging backwards mentally. When he is born “old,” he is just born like any other baby only his body body is old and wrinkly. His mother has died in childbirth, but his father is so repulsed by the old looking baby that he leaves it on the doorstep of an old folks home. Luckily, one of the workers there, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) takes pity on him and decides to raise him in the retirement home along with all the other senior citizens. This works as well as it could, the only problems arise when others think Benjamin is as old as he looks. This gets him on a ship, into a brothel, and drinking way earlier than is customary. It does not seem to damage him as his life goes on, so while this was originally making me morally uncomfortable, I was able to dismiss it for the most part.
He meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett) when they are both around seven, though of course he looks like an old man. She immediately senses that he is not as old as he looks, and when he confirms this she is not surprised. Right from the beginning they are able to relate to each other. This isn’t that surprising, if she realizes he isn’t as old as he looks. They’re the same age, and his reverse “aging” is supposedly what’s stopping Benjamin from leading a normal life. As his life progresses, he goes off to sea, falls in love with a woman named Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), but always comes back to Daisy. After a few false starts, they are able to have a life together, until a child comes along.
Benjamin feels he can’t be a father because of his getting younger. The thing is, and it’s been this way since the beginning, he’s only getting younger outwardly. He is still mentally and emotionally able to raise a child, or as much as anyone around the age of forty is (I believe it was stated that he was around forty at this point, that he and Daisy had “met in the middle.”). The only problem I could see is that of society, because if he and Daisy explained to their child that Benjamin was aging backwards and she witnessed it throughout her entire life, then she would probably be able to handle it. It would be hard to explain to others why a man who looked like a child was raising a child of his own. The film didn’t go into that however. It went in a completely different direction.
All of this about Benjamin being alone and solitary because of his aging was complete nonsense, because he had many people around him that understood the difference between the age he looked and the age he actually was. People didn’t always die on him, not any more than would normally happen. He had many friends at the old folks home, a supportive parent in Queenie, and a lifelong partner in Daisy, and then he threw it all away because he didn’t understand his own condition? I had a real problem with this. Especially given how the relationship between Benjamin and Daisy played out, he really had no reason to leave her and his daughter in the first place.
That makes me think there is a point to salvage in all of this, other than the normal living life to the fullest stuff. Daisy is a dancer, and one day she gets hit by a car and breaks her leg. She can no longer dance. Benjamin comes to visit her, and she can’t bear to have him see her broken and ugly. So she sends him away. Later, she comes back to New Orleans where Benjamin lives, and realizes that this is no way to live one’s life. “I promise you, I’ll never lose myself to self-pity again.” It seems to me Benjamin didn’t learn from what Daisy went through. Which is fine, in terms of the film, only it makes Benjamin out to be this guy who overcomes adversity to live life as normally as possible, when really that is not the case.
This seems to be a common complaint of mine with Fincher’s films, he always seems to filter the story through a different lens than I want to see it. In this case, I’m more likely to blame writer Eric Roth however, who seems to be more concerned with duplicating his earlier Forrest Gump than exploring the unique concept at hand. What I mean by this is that it would have been way more mind blowing for Benjamin to mentally age backwards as well. That’s quite a problem though, because it seems impossible to imagine how that would work. I expected the film to have more insights than it gave, however.
I come across as very critical in my review, but I did enjoy this film a lot. I love Forrest Gump, and a lot of the same ideas coming across didn’t really bother me. I thought the acting was fantastic across the board. Pitt did a fantastic job, though Benjamin as a character was quite boring actually. Blanchett had more material to work with, and was more impressive probably for that reason. She’s one of those actors that I see in a lot of films, and her characters across them seem to have nothing in common. As far as I can tell, she really doesn’t have an onscreen persona that she carries with her from film to film, and that makes her that much more effective here as in everything else she does. The makeup and CGI effects used to make both of them look different ages were phenomenal. The score by Alexandre Desplat was great as well, and combined with the laid back direction from Fincher (pretty uncharacteristic really) and mellow color scheme made the film oddly relaxing.
The film ends up being much less the story of a man who ages in reverse, and more of the story of a man who encounters similar problems as everyone. I still feel I was cheated on an interesting look at a man who experiences time in a completely different way, but appraised as a film that tells the story of a man’s life, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a good one. It’s heartfelt, the only moments that felt corny or insincere were with the daughter (Julia Ormond) in present day hearing the story, but the story itself was very moving. In short, if you disregard how they handled the reverse aging part of the film, it’s very good.
“You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You could swear, curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.”
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars