The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

by Rick Grant

Grade: B+ / Rated PG-13
A sad and illuminating parable of our immortality from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel, this epic life story was directed by David Fincher and written for the screen by Eric Roth in the mold of Forrest Gump, which was coincidently written by Roth. Right after World War I, in New Orleans, a male baby is born as an old man, with all the maladies of advanced aging. His father is horrified and grabs the baby and runs to the river intending to cast the child into the cold water to drown. An alert cop intervenes and the father takes the baby to an old age home and leaves it on the staircase.
Thus begins the saga of Benjamin, (Brad Pitt) a freak of nature, who is cared for by a sweet black lady at the old folks home. She took him in as her own and loved him. At first Benjamin seems like a shriveled old man, but as time goes on, remarkably, he is slowly getting younger.
Roth’s script is a balanced fusion of sentimentality and humor, which saves the film from falling into a black hole of maudlin schmaltz. Much credit must go to the film’s make up artist for creating the subtle changes in Benjamin’s appearance. More significantly, Brad Pitt turned in an insightful performance as Benjamin gradually getting younger. Cate Blanchett shines with extraordinary acting skill in another Oscar worthy performance as Daisy, Benjamin’s lifelong lover.
Fincher created an old fashioned tone to the film-heavily nuanced with detail and exemplary filmmaking savvy to evolve the story around Benjamin’s reverse aging. The tug boat sequences are a major part of the scenario as Benjamin gets real life experience as a tug boat mate. The old guy who keeps saying he was hit seven times by lightning is a clever comic relief to the drama of Benjamin’s unusual life.
The love affair between Daisy and Benjamin evolves over many years. She’s only a child when she meets Benjamin at the old folks home. Then years later, she comes home and meets a much younger Benjamin. At the time, Daisy is full of herself as she pursues big time ballet career. Later, after Daisy is hit by a car which ends her dance career, they meet again and their love of each other blooms into a full blown romance.
The entire story is told as Daisy lies dying in a New Orleans nursing home as hurricane Katrina bears down. Her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) reads from Benjamin’s memoirs about her life with him. Of course, her daughter is stunned by this story that she had never heard before. Symbols and metaphors abound such as clocks, buttons, storms, humming birds-all to remind the viewer of time slipping away.
The reverse aging or “younging” absorbed in the running time of the film effectively sucks the viewer into an accelerated linear time frame of life. As the hurricane floods the basement of the nursing home, a big clock is ticking as each second brings us closer to the end. This scene could have been overpowering but for Fincher’s delicate touch using humor to soften the emotional turmoil of watching two lives moving in opposite directions finally live out their time on earth.
The fact that Benjamin is aging in reverse is Fitzgerald’s clever device to see the life cycle differently. Still, he seeks love and he always returns to his true mother and her old folks home. The story avoids moralizing, but does expose the viewer to what’s truly important in life-love and family.