A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 216 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – October 2nd, 2010

This is a slow movie. I will not lie. It doesn’t pass by in a frenzy. It doesn’t pick you up and make you run with it. It is over two and a half hours long. Almost three hours long. And in some ways it feels it. This is the story of lives. Not just one life, but several, and they need space to spread out and show themselves. It’s not a bad thing that it’s long, but I think one should be prepared. It is a slow movie, drawing out its moments in quiet ways in the way that life and time do.

We begin with a dying elderly woman and a story about a clockmaker who made a clock that would go backwards, in hopes that the boys who died in the first world war might some day return. The clock is symbolic, of course. This is the story of a man who ages backwards, after all. The elderly woman is Daisy, and she is in a hospital, kept company by her daughter, Caroline. And Caroline is reading Daisy a journal that tells the story of the life of Benjamin Button, born a wizened old man on the day World War One ended and abandoned by his father on the steps of a boarding house for the elderly only to grow younger and younger the more years passed by. It’s the story of Benjamin’s life, but since Benjamin and Daisy fell in love, it is also the story of Daisy’s life, if only in pieces. It’s the story of Benjamin’s adoptive mother, Queenie, and of all of the people he met as he grew up in an old folks’ home and left to travel the world. It’s the story of an old man in a boy’s body at the end. It is the story of love and how things don’t last and how the choices we make change not just our lives but the lives we touch.

There’s a very quiet mood to this movie. It starts with the boarding house and Benjamin growing up unable to run and play and do the things most children do. He’s more like the residents of the house, needing help to walk, to eat, to bathe. It starts so still and slow and soft, which really sets the tone for the rest of the movie. There are loud bits, with church revivals and war and music, but what stood out for me were all the times when the quiet seeped in and the movie made me take a few seconds or minutes and just look at Benjamin’s life. That’s why the movie is nearly three hours long. It takes its time.

Really, the whole movie is about time. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind the length or that you feel every minute. I wanted to feel every minute. When Benjamin ends up in Russia, stuck in a hotel for a few weeks, having a midnight affair with the wife of a diplomat and spy, there are long times for them, spent in the hotel lobby, and the kitchen, tasting new foods, talking, being wrapped up in each other. Those aren’t moments to pass by in a montage. When the tugboat Benjamin works on gets commandeered by the US Navy in WWII, those are some moments to spend time on, and likewise when he gets home and Queenie welcomes him back. I want to see that welcome home. I want it to have the time it deserves. When his father finds him and tells him the truth and Benjamin carries him out to a dock to sit and watch the sun rise? I want every second of that sunrise. When he and Daisy travel to the Florida Keys to spend some time swimming and sailing and being in love, that time should linger. The movie should pause there.

Without the gimmick it would be similar to Forrest Gump but without the right-place-right-time schtick that Gump uses to place him in all sorts of famous moments. The times and places Benjamin finds himself in aren’t photo moments captured in famous magazines. But with the gimmick there’s a touch of bittersweetness through the beginning. You watch as he grows younger, stronger, unlike the people he grew up surrounded by. And it seems almost a good thing. Until you really think about what it will mean. We all lose people. We all go through life with other people around us and people die or go away. It happens. But this story is very similar to ones that deal with the problems of immortality. Benjamin is a man who doesn’t quite fit into the world, and he never will. The older he gets, the younger he seems, and that sets him apart. Regardless of what he wants.

This movie would not be what it is without several key things: The painstaking attention to time period is one, even with a few flaws that didn’t matter so much to me. The mood was right. And then there are the performances. Of course Brad Pitt is important to it all. He carries much of the movie. But his stand-ins for the extremes in his ages are also fantastic even in the short times they’re on screen. And then there is Cate Blanchett as Daisy, who also has to grow up in the movie. Taraji P. Henson is absolutely amazing as Queenie, and I loved Tilda Swinton as the frustrated and elegant Elizabeth Abbott. I also want to mention Jason Flemyng, who only has a few scenes as Benjamin’s father, but manages to make him such a sad figure in that short time. And while Julia Ormond doesn’t have a whole lot to work with as Daisy’s daughter Caroline, who reads her the journal in the present day, what she has she does well with. It is a movie full of performances that pass through time and show the course of people’s lives. Everyone in the movie seems to have gotten on board with the pace of the movie, which is why it all works so well, so I must also commend David Fincher for the direction that put everything in place.

I cried through the last half hour of this movie. Oh, I cried in the middle too, more than once. I cried for Mrs. Maple and I cried for Queenie and I cried for Elizabeth Abbott, the woman in the Russian hotel who seems at the time to want so much more out of life and not know how to manage it. I cried when the tugboat went to war. And I cried when the inevitability of Benjamin and Daisy’s relationship becomes so painfully obvious. And then I didn’t stop crying. I think the ending will likely resonate with anyone who’s lost someone to a slow, debilitating disease, but all I could think about were my mother’s parents, both of whom we lost slowly, one to strokes, one to a very gradual dementia. It is horrible. It is a terrible painful aching thing to bear witness to. And the movie lingers on that too.

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October 2, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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