A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

October 2, 2010

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I have long labored under a misconception regarding this movie. For some reason I thought it was directed by Robert Zemeckis. As we watched this I even started writing my review with that assumption in my mind. I had to double-check IMDB when Amanda said that it was, in fact, David Fincher who directed this and not Zemeckis at all. Comparisons between this movie and Forrest Gump are inevitable.

This is an epic tale told in flashback of an extraordinary individual’s life. In this case it’s the story of Benjamin Button, who is born an old man with cataracts wrinkles and arthritis. As the movie progresses he grown younger and younger while everybody else in his life grows older. The details of the plot are not important. There is love and death and war and birth. But that’s not so much what the movie is about, really.

The movie is about creating a mood. It’s about life, and the people we encounter as we live it. It’s about death and the many ways it can come for us, and how we all have to face it sometime. It’s a tender, touching, peculiar movie about living and about loss.

It is told in flashbacks as a woman reads from a journal that her dying mother has. Her mother is in a hospital in New Orleans on the eve of Katrina. (I kept waiting for this to be relevant to the plot of the movie, but it’s not really related.) The daughter reads to her on her death bed from the journal of Benjamin Button which tells of his life and loves (most notably the woman’s mother Daisy.) It’s a magical kind of fairy story. This is re-enforced by the tale the mother tells at the start of the movie about a blind clockmaker and a clock which runs backward. There is a sort of mythical feel to the whole movie as Benjamin lives out his life.

I’m not altogether sure how to review it, truth be told. I was definitely moved by the film. It has a message about accepting that which is inevitable and about not allowing yourself to be afraid to live whatever life you want to in the mean time.

The performances of the many people playing Benjamin Button are fantastic. Particularly considering the heavy make-up they have to work under for much of the film. I’d say I enjoyed most the tale of Benjamin growing up in New Orleans in the years between World War I and World War II. In this stage of the movie Benjamin is played by Peter Badalmenti, and Peter gets to create much of the character that Brad Pitt brings forward into the rest of the film. His depiction of Benjamin as a curious child trapped in the body of an ancient hobbling old man is wonderful fun. He manages, through the make-up, to give a real feel for the longings in Benjamin and the awkwardness of his teenage years (made more awkward by his aged appearance.)

Much thanks has to be given to the make-up team for making the whole evolution of Benjamin’s life believable. The transition from Peter Badalamenti to Brad Pitt is almost seamless since Brad adopts so much of Peter’s attitude and vocal mannerism, and the make up actually makes it hard to tell exactly which actor is playing the part at that stage. Peter plays Benjamin as more of a rapscallion and Brad as more a lonely and cautious man both older and younger than his years, but both are perfect for the time in Benjamin’s life they’re portraying.

It seems natural that Brad Pitt (who seems to aging in reverse himself) should be cast as Benjamin Button during his adult years. And the performance of Cate Blanchette as his love Daisy is wonderful. She has to capture the feel of a woman growing older in the normal cours of time as her love grows younger and younger. It’s the little glimpses of frustration with her aging body that capture me most about her performance. Also noteworthy is the always wonderful Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth Abbott, wife of an English diplomat in Russia with whom Benjamin has an affair. She’s given some great speeches about the kinds of regrets that a person can have in middle age about lost opportunities. (Lost opportunities and missed moments are a theme in the movie.) I also love the closure the movie provides her character in the end.

I have a few minor complaints about the movie. I never really bought the motivation for one major plot point later in the movie for example. I feel like some kind of traumatic event was needed to spur Benjamin to a somewhat radical choice he took, but it felt unjustified as it appeared in the film. I also felt the movie lacked closure. Sure, it’s the story of Benjamin Button over all else, but I kind of want to know what happened to Daisy and her daughter, especially since so much is made over the course of the film of the approach of Katrina to the hospital where their action is taking place.

But those are little things, really. I feel that the movie is bigger than those little details like plot and closure. It accomplishes very well what it sets out to do, which is to make you look at your own life and treasure it. It could very well have been a Robert Zemeckis film were he not now so absorbed in his work with the experimental leading edge of 3-D digital film making. Aside from one little segment in the middle of the movie (where Benjamin tells a story within the story about how Daisy’s career as a dancer came to an end) and the tale of the blind clock-maker there is no moment that screamed David Fincher about the film. He directs in a very artful, reserved and tender way here. It’s not about cool visual tricks; the movie is about the emotion and the feel. It’s a magical little tale with a gentle heart.

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

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