When I first heard about “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” I thought it sounded bizarre and I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea for some reason. Then I found out that David Fincher was directing it and so far he’s impressed me almost every step of the way, especially with films like “Fight Club” and “Zodiac.” When I saw it in theaters I was completely awe-struck. It was beautiful, epic, and it seemed to utilize every aspect of filmmaking with balance, never stepping into sentimentality. So I went on raving about the film to everyone I knew, only to hear back that it was too long or that it never really connected on a deep emotional level. This is something people I know and reviewers have said, and to be honest I completely disagree. I will come right out and say that I love this film! Now let’s get into it a bit.
The film is told through flashbacks as Daisy lies on her deathbed in a New Orleans hospital and her daughter reads Benjamin Button’s journal aloud to give her peace in her final moments. Button’s story starts with his birth in 1918, but there was something curious about the day he was born. Benjamin Button was born an old, shriveled, frail man in infant form. His parents thinking he wouldn’t live long don’t know what to do and so they abandon him on the porch of a retirement home where he is picked up and taken care of by Queenie (played to perfection by Taraji P. Henson). Queenie raises Benjamin his whole life, always ready for the day when his old body gives out, but come to find out Benjamin ages in reverse. The older he gets the younger he looks. So he’s born with the appearance of old age and the assumption of the wisdom that comes with it, when in actuality he has the mindset of a child. The moments with Brad Pitt as an old man/boy not only look amazing visually, they also connect on a human and humorous level. This film is in no way a comedy, in fact it’s very melancholy, but there are genuinely funny moments as Button discovers more about himself, especially a scene where he visits a prostitute for the first time. Button meets Daisy at a young age and it is clear they are the love of each other’s lives, but the timing is always off. They continue to pass in and out of each other’s lives as they both grow, Daisy growing older while Benjamin grows younger. The story covers his entire life from start to finish and does so in an enormously effective and moving way.
To address the critics that say this film is too long, it’s about an entire life from birth to death. What were they expecting 90 minutes? The running time allows the story to breathe and the characters to be fully fleshed out so every aspect of his life can be explored. I respect the attention to detail and felt the pacing was perfect. I can’t imagine trimming a single scene out of this movie because it all connects to the overall theme. That it doesn’t matter what age we are or where we’re at in life, the only thing that matters are the people we love and the moments we have with them. Button gets the privilege to learn things in reverse, but still ends up being as lost and confused as Daisy.
Some people I talked to said the film never really goes deep enough which I completely disagree with. The ending (which I won’t give away) broke my heart and when the old woman in the retirement home passed away it was devastating. David Fincher balances the tone of the film perfectly. He never embellishes the themes and allows such a bizarre and fantastical concept to exist on a real and visceral level. He doesn’t dwell on the emotional scenes, he moves on, as we do in life. Bad things happen, but life continues. I never felt like I was being manipulated to feel a certain way, so when I reacted emotionally to a scene it felt natural and genuine. So often with Hollywood films the emotional impact is very contrived and spoon-fed to us, but Fincher assumes we are intelligent adults and he allows us to feel the moments of mourning without making us.
On top of how well crafted and full the story is, the acting is incredible. Taraji P. Henson blew me away as Queenie, her undying love for Benjamin was unspeakably real and she is a revelation in this film. Brad Pitt reminded me why I have so much respect for him as he gives an understated but emotionally loaded performance. The same goes for Cate Blanchett who acts as effortlessly as her character does ballet. Which is one of the best moments in the film, when the almost “mini-movie” sequence happens and Benjamin describes all the moments that fell into place to bring about Daisy’s accident. That is true craftsmanship. The film is shot beautifully and the shots feel as epic as the script. Everything about this film fits together in one complete story, which is why it was one of my top choices for Best Picture.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a somber, beautiful, and touching film.
Interviews with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett
Commentary by David Fincher
Behind the scenes of the visual effects techniques used in the film
Step-by-step of the motion capture process for aging Mr. Pitt
David Fincher’s Creative Process on Set
Interview with the composer for the film’s score
Featurettes on the costumes, art direction, and storyboards
An essay by Kent Jones