The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button follows a pattern of movies that are stories told from a deathbed. I’m thinking of Big Fish, even Titanic is a recollection of an old lady’s adventures aboard a sinking ship.
The story is dead simple: Benjamin Button is an abandoned child. His mother died in childbirth, and with one look at his wrinkly face, his father leaves him on the doorstep of an old folks’ home. Not before one unsuccessful attempt to drown the swaddled Benjamin at the docks.
Benjamin, you see, has a rare condition – or curious case, if you will – he is born with an extremely aged body, and as time goes on, his appearance becomes younger. His wrinkles smooth out, his hair grows thicker and takes on colour. His reliance on walking sticks disappears altogether.
And the story focusses on this paradoxical character, as he grows older while growing physically younger. He grows up with adoptive mother Queenie (quite a common name for black women in New Orleans, apparently?), among the old folks living out their final years in her home. And despite the oddness of the surroundings, it’s a nurturing bosom for Benjamin, to which he returns throughout his later life.
Button’s story is rich and varied: he goes off around the world on a tugboat with a maniacal, curssing Northern-Irishman. He visits a brothel and meets his real father for the first time (on the same excursion). He begins a sweet affair with the wife of a British spy, with just a touch of Lost In Translation in their relationship.
The love of his life is Daisy, whom he knows throughout his life. Fate keeps the pair apart, but when they finally get together things briefly click, and they have a child together. It’s at this point that Button realises his child will grow older as he grows younger, and ultimately Daisy will be left with two children to raise. He chooses to leave the home and encourages Daisy to be pragmatic and find a father to help her raise Daisy. He returns once, years later, when the age contrast between he and Daisy is much more marked. Later, Daisy is called to the old people’s home where Queenie’s daughter now reigns as matriarch and a 5 year old Benjamin has been brought by the authorities.
Daisy moves into the home to live with and care for Benjamin, and where once she was his lover, she now acts as a mother figure.
Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum describes The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as “an extravagantly ambitious movie that’s easy to admire but a challenge to love.”
I’m in agreement on this point, but I point an accusatory finger at Brad Pitt. I’ve always found Pitt to be quite an unemotional actor, like a pillar around which the rest of the cast emote. And for that selfsame reason, I find it very difficult to connect with any character Pitt plays.
All the same, the film is a charming piece of cinema, which a number of writers have compared favourably to Forrest Gump (with whom it shares a writer, Eric Roth). There’s a rich tapestry of experiences that Button lives through, and inevitably there are highs and lows. It runs perhaps a little too long, but I can’t think of many moments I’d shave from the story.
Tell you what I wouldn’t have done though: I wouldn’t have cast Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton as the romantic leads. I think the too actresses are so physically similar that I can’t tell the difference between them. I actually stayed back after the movie to watch the credits because I was convinced that Swinton’s character, Elizabeth Abbott, was actually Blanchett under more CGI trickery. Their noses are remarkably similar. Blanchett looked pretty hot with red hair though, didn’t she? Yum.
Overall, though, it’s a film I’ll come back to. The story is beautifully told, warm, funny and heartbreaking in places. The character of Benjamin Button is quite like Forrest Gump: he’s warm and generally takes the right course of action, even in caring for the father who abandoned him at the end of the old man’s life. What Button lacks are Gump’s endearing sayings to give the audience something to latch on to.