The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)


One of the more unique films to be released this past year, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a blend of imagination and originality that will either resonate with you or cause indifference in the audience. It was for me an intriguing experience.


A hurricane rages outside the New Orleans hospital where Daisy (Blanchett) lays at death's door. Surrounded by nurses that flutter in regularly to check on her, the one constant companion is her daughter Caroline (Ormond), who is encouraged to read an old journal in her mother's keeping. In it is the story of Benjamin Button (Pitt), who was born as an old man in a baby's body during an eerie twist of fate tied in to the ticking of a clock determined to run backwards. Abandoned by his father outside an old persons' home, he is raised by a well-meaning Baptist black woman who does not expect him to live more than a few hours. But hours turn into days and then weeks as Benjamin grows up and becomes younger. Cataracts transform into glasses, arthritis slowly ebbs, and after an exciting afternoon serving as an extra hand on a steamboat, Benjamin knows that when he "grows up" (or reaches seventeen) he wants to go to sea.


One of the home's most regular visitors is young Daisy, whom we soon discover is destined to entwine her life with Benjamin's. Once a freckled, redheaded child and then a dancer, it is many years later that she is reintroduced to the man destined to become the complicated love of her life. They first met when he was old, and she was a child, and their roles slowly reverse with the unfolding of time. There is no outright message apart from one, that you should live your life and follow your dreams no matter how old you are. It resonates in the air and on the page as the audience lives the characters' lives with them. As with most stories, and with true life, there are a number of gains and losses, excruciating pains and disappointments, abundant hours of happiness and self-fulfillment. The premise has the potential to be very creepy but how it unfolds makes us not only believe in it, but anticipate where it might lead. This is due in part to the lovely performances of the leading duo. Blanchett and Pitt. Who would have ever thought they would be a good match? But they are. Pitt gives an understated performance, while Blanchett's is full of quiet grace.


There are a few things that I did not much care for. The first is that the movie seems very long. Some portions of his life fly past but others seem to drag a bit -- as the heart of the film is Daisy and Benjamin, whenever Daisy is absent the storyline suffers as a result. Also, the nonexistent morality rubs a bit. For being raised in a "religious" household (his adopted mother is big on prayer, but also lives with a man out of wedlock), Benjamin has no qualms about having two adulterous affairs and numerous one night stands, not to mention visiting a brothel when he is in his seventies... err... about twelve or thirteen. None of the encounters are particularly graphic but involve kissing, undressing, closing bedroom doors, and him lying on top of Daisy in several brief shots during a montage. There is a distant shot of them nude, embracing on a beach. Benjamin's care-provider is a believer but the only minister shown in the film is a Healing Preacher, who lays hands on the sick and puts them into spasms.


Language is not a huge issue but does intrude with scattered profanities, some harsh abuse of deity, and two f-words (one of them muffled). There is some violence when the small craft Benjamin is on is targeted during WWII by a Japanese submarine; most of the people on board are killed. There are massive underwater explosions and some blood as a result of gunfire. A woman is hit by a car (implied, impact unseen). It is a true piece of artistry but not one that will be popular with more than a select audience. Some people will simply not understand it, and others be bored by it. Still others will be charmed by it. Admittedly, the main luring point for me was Blanchett, but I found it a movie that even if I do not watch it more than once, I will find it impossible to forget. I think, ironically, it will grow on me with time.

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