The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – 2008
This movie was a wonderful magical fairy tale. It is a film that really spoke to me on a number of levels. Every now and then I come across a film that I instinctively know I’m going to like, even before I watch it. Other films in this category are The Lady in the Water from 2006 and Cloud Atlas from 2012. And while I’m on the subject, I’m predicting that I’m going to love the 2014 Best Picture nominee: The Grand Budapest Hotel.
We start off in a hospital room where a very old woman played by Cate Blanchett is dying. Her daughter, played by Julia Ormond is there, doing her best to comfort her. To pass the time, the young woman reads to her mother from a mysterious diary, and the real story of the movie begins. As the movie progresses, we are frequently brought back to the hospital room, constantly reminding us that the main body of the narrative is a flashback.
The title Character of Benjamin Button was the film’s protagonist, and was played at various stages in his remarkable life by several different people, most notable of whom is Brad Pitt. He was also played by Robert Towers, Peter Donald Badalamenti II, Tom Everett, Spencer Daniels, Chandler Canterbury, and Charles Henry Wyson. The amazing thing was that it was only the last three actors who I could tell were different, and that was because the character was portrayed as a child, a toddler, and an infant. The makeup and digital effects artists did a phenomenal job of making me believe that they were all Brad Pitt. It was not surprising that the film won the Awards for Best Makeup and Best Visual Effects.
You see, this was the tale of a man who ages backward. He is born as an old man with all the infirmities of the elderly. He has the mind of a child but the body of an eighty or ninety year-old man. As he ages, his body grows younger and his ailments begin to fall away. He meets a young girl named Daisy Fuller, played by Elle Fanning, with whom he forms the instant bond of a soul-mate. It is this strange, romantic relationship that is the main focus of the film. As Daisy ages, passing through actress Madisen Beaty as a ten year-old, and becomes an adult, played by Cate Blanchett, Benjamin ages in reverse, and the two eventually meet in the middle. It is there that their romance blossoms.
The movie follows Benjamin as he meets people who have a significant influence on him, people like his adoptive mother, Queenie, played by Taraji P. Henson, his first employer, Mike Clark, a tugboat Captain played by Jared Harris, Elizabeth Abbot, his first love affair, played by Tilda Swinton, and Thomas Button, his biological father, played by Jason Flemyng. They each have a hand, for better or for worse, in shaping him and who, in turn, are shaped by him.
The movie has a theme of exploring how human beings are a collection of experiences and interactions, and how each person we meet becomes part of who we are. It also expresses how age and time are also significant factors that change us. And through Benjamin Button’s magical backwards life, we are shown how humans begin and end their journeys in nearly the same helpless position.
This had the effect of making Benjamin’s romance with Daisy fascinating in a remarkably unique way. As she aged, he grew younger, the importance of which was not lost on either of them. It was a relationship that was doomed but for that brief window where their ages matched. After that time was ended, she would become an old woman taking care of an infant. And when it was time for them to part, Benjamin did the only thing he could have done. He left without a word and didn’t come back until he was too young to take care of himself.
I have to give special props to the entire cast of actors, all of whom did a great job. First, it is easy to be distracted by how incredibly handsome Brad Pitt is, and forget that he is also a very skilled actor. But when you see him in a role like this, there is no denying how good he is. Blanchett was good, especially, surprisingly enough, as the old lady in the hospital bed. She had just the right amount of the immobile infirmity of the woman dying of old age. I also really liked Swinton and Harris.
And finally, I want to acknowledge the cinematography and the musical score, both of which were incredible. They were both nominated for awards at the Oscars, though neither of them won. Claudio Miranda was responsible for the wonderful cinematography and the beautiful score was written by Alexandre Desplat. They, along with masterful direction by David Fincher, made the movie into a really engaging piece of film art, a feast for the eyes, the ears, the mind, and the heart.