By Jas Singh
“My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everyone else was agin’, I was gettin’ younger… all alone.” And with those words, the audience is transported into a world that is mesmerizing, an emotional journey, full of love, laughter and life.
Based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button takes its source material to new heights. The basic premise remains the same, having Benjamin Button, played by Brad Pitt (Burn After Reading), age from an 80-year-old man to a toddler. But much of the presentation has been changed. Benjamin still ages in reverse, but instead of being physically born an old man with a baby’s state of mind, he is born a baby with all the complexities of an old man. But his mind remains as that of a baby. And as Benjamin grows younger, the audience grows with him, living every moment, for “nothing lasts.”
His mother died during childbirth and his father discarded him early on because of his shock at discovering such a grotesque baby. Benjamin is taken in by Queenie, played by Taraji P. Henson (Smokin’ Aces), who raises him as her own. The film uses flashbacks to establish timelines in Benjamin’s life. These are told by Caroline (Julia Ormond), to her estranged mother, an older and near-death Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There), as Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans.
The film revolves around Benjamin’s life and his interaction with a young Daisy. As fate would have it, they aren’t exactly destined to be together. Yet Daisy sees something in Benjamin no one else does. They meet often throughout, but there is a sense of uncertainty in both of them. When they eventually “meet in the middle,” quite literally, of their lives, it’s both romantic and heartbreaking to see their relationship blossom. But that’s life.
For nearly three hours, the audience grows young with Benjamin, experiencing a life one may only dream of. And oh, what a marvelous life it is. From an 80-year-old baby to a 2-year-old toddler — everything is flawless. The film takes its sweet time establishing itself, but that’s the point. It doesn’t rush to an ending like most films of today. Pitt is great. Even though much of his appearance is computer generated, he plays Benjamin with a subtlety that only Pitt can achieve. To see Pitt slowly become the young man of Thelma and Louise is breathtaking. Blanchett is wonderful, both as a young, carefree woman, and as an older, much wiser Daisy.
The supporting cast is amazing, especially Henson, as Benjamin’s adoptive mother. Queenie is the mother we would all want: loving and supportive. Tilda Swinton (Burn After Reading) also makes a brief appearance as a married woman Benjamin has an affair with. It’s short-lived but effective in establishing the film’s running theme of life and its uncertainty. Then there is Captain Mike, played by Jared Harris (Lady in the Water), who teaches Benjamin the ups and downs of life, taking him to brothels and bars.
David Fincher is a director who can’t seem to do any wrong. He has made Fight Club, Se7en and Zodiac — two of which feature Pitt. Button will only add to Fincher’s already well-established filmography and will hopefully be talked about for years to come, aging gracefully for generations of audiences.
The screenplay by Eric Roth, best known for his work with Forrest Gump, excels in creating a world that is very much grounded in reality, yet, at the same time, maintains a sense of movie magic around itself. Comparisons to Gump are inevitable, but the two films work as singular pieces if only because they offer two different perspectives on life. Where Gump showed a man and his crash course through history, Button takes the opposite approach. Benjamin doesn’t have all the time in the world. He has no choice but to leave everything he had and is always alone. And therein lies the true tragedy of the tale: Time is a cruel mistress.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button dares to invite the audience to live a life that, perhaps, they will never witness: a full one. For “our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss,” and no one knows that better than Benjamin Button.