I’m not sure why, but ever since I saw The Game way back in the mid-90s, I’ve been a huge fan of David Fincher’s work. So I was very curious to see the much-discussed The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I finally caught up with yesterday.
If you haven’t heard of it, I can only presume you’ve been living in a vacuum somewhere. Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born on the last night of World War I with all the appearances of old age (arthritis, bad hearing, etc.) and then as he grows, he gets younger and younger. (Well, his body does. His mind moves in the regular direction.)
As he goes through life, people cross in and out of it, most importantly being Daisy (Cate Blanchett). That’s pretty much all you need to know.
Most reviewers of this film commented on the fact that the film is brilliantly made (the special effects never draw attention to themselves, but every time we move forward in time, and somebody looks a bit older (or, in the case of Benjamin, a bit younger) we’re always blown away. And David Fincher’s storytelling style is brilliant. His scenes are always well-composed, and he has a great eye for detail.
But every reviewer has also had something to complain about. Nobody has been 100% satisfied with the movie.
I have to be in the same camp. Why?
For me, it’s the character of Benjamin.
The film’s point that it’s trying to hammer home is that death comes for us all in the end. So as Benjamin grows up, we have the bizarre irony that the people he knew when he was young will get older and die, while he will continue to get younger. By the same token, because of the reverse aging gimmick, we understand completely that the younger he gets, the more numbered his days. It’s effectively like having a death clock hanging over his head the entire film. (As opposed to if he was aging normally, when who knows how long he might live for?)
So as far as that point goes, the film works quite successfully. But it’s not enough. Why? Because, my theory is, people die all the time. On the news, in the movies, etc. Why on earth would we care about Benjamin Button dying? If you look at his character and how it’s written, we’re talking about a guy who wanders through life, just saying “yes” to everything and barely contributing a thing to society. In fact, apart from a brief stint as a tugboat sailor, he seemed to spend the rest of the film travelling the world, chasing women and boarding at an old folks home.
For us to truly care about a character dying, there has to be something about that character that we would love. His achievements in life have to make us miss him or her. There’s none of that here in Benjamin Button.
However, what the film will do is make you think about your own impending death. It’ll either get you completely down, or it will make you more stoic about life one or the other. And obviously, for me, it’s driven home the question – what do we do with this life that we have? So, from a philosophical point of view and a stylistic cinema point of view, but sadly not from an emotional point of view, I give this film a
4 out of 5