Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Curiouser and curiouser

Hubs and I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button last week. I thought it was a good movie, and I waited a while to review it here because my brain needed a little time to chew on it.

Though this movie is long (we watched half of it one night, the other half on another night), I thought it was rich with fantasy, amazing production qualities (the film is gorgeous to look at, from start to finish), and some really good performances.

Here's the skinny: Benjamin Button (played by Brad Pitt) is born at the end of World War I to a wealthy New Orleans family. His mother dies in childbirth. When Benjamin's father sees his new son, he is horrified. The baby appears unnaturally aged/sick, with wrinkled skin. The shocked, unprepared new father leaves the infant on a doorstep.

Luckily, that doorstep belongs to an old folks' home managed by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson, in an inspired performance). Heartsick Queenie is unable to have children of her own, and she takes the unfortunate little one in. As a child, Benjamin has the appearance and physical ability of a 70-year-old man and the mental capabilities of a child. The older Benjamin gets, however, the more apparent it becomes - he's aging backwards.

It's at the home that Benjamin meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett). The two feel an instant connection.

As Benjamin hits his teenaged years, he takes a job on a tugboat, travels the world, and begins to live his life. The rest of the movie follows he and Daisy (who grows up to be a prima ballerina) as the two find love, find one another, and experience the inevitable loss that is characteristic of the human experience.

Cast-wise, I think the star is clearly Blanchett, followed at a close second by Henson. Though Pitt does an admirable job, his Benjamin is a man of few words, which doesn't do much for the acting fireworks.

Effects/makeup were wonderful, though I did feel that dim lighting in many scenes affected my full appreciation of the technology used to both age characters and "turn back the clock." (It was almost as if they were trying to hide Pitt in some scenes, maybe for a bigger reveal later? At any rate, I didn't like it. Just tell the story.)

There was alot of symbolism in this movie, and it really made me want to read the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story on which the movie is based. For instance, there is (of course) a lot of imagery related to time/mortality throughout the film. There's a clock that runs backwards installed in a New Orleans train station. (The clockmaker had lost a son in WWI, and he presented the clock saying that he hoped, as it ticked, all the boys who were lost in the war would come home again. Very poignant.) There are the auspicious events that mark Benjamin's birth and death, as well as other milestones in the characters' lives. (Telling us overtly how time is passing. The timeline of the movie marks the passage of American history.) There's the idea that we all start the same and end the same, and that our state at both the beginning and the end of life is very similar. And the mantle of death hangs a bit about the whole movie - we know the deaths of all the major characters are on their way.

Another theme in this film is the concept of the "other." Benjamin is different from everyone. He is an outsider, and it seems to take other outsiders to help him truly come into his own. A Pygmy takes him out for his first real "outing." A tattooed tugboat captain shows him the wonders of the world (and of a seedy brothel). The isolated wife of a British diplomat gives him his first taste of real love. And along the way, we begin to see that, despite our various differences, we are all . . . scared or frustrated or in love or whatever. We are all outsiders in some ways. Though we may seem very different, we are all on a similar journey.

The characters repeatedly say things such as, "Nothing lasts," and we watch Benjamin and Daisy as they enjoy a life they both know is fleeting, temporary. True, our life on earth and all its joys are transient, but I think the thrust of the movie is that we should be grateful for whatever piece of joy or heartbreak we've been lucky enough to experience.

And, maybe in a deconstructionist criticism, the film gives the message that maybe some things do last. Maybe some things remain constant as the world and its circumstances whirl about them. Some things - children, accomplishments, great love, great pain - somehow live on as a legacy of the life we've lived. That's what I took away from it, anyway.

Really enjoyed it, but would recommend breaking it up (as we did), rather than watching the whole thing in one sitting. It will give you more time to think about it, too.


HEATHER said...

I have't seen the movie but I am an F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald fanatic. I have so many books about the two of them.
Here is a link to the Tales of the Jazz Age that has been put online. Benjamin Button is the first story. It's very short and won't take you long at all.

HEATHER said...

I see that didn't turn out too well so I will post it on your FB.

Nicole Bradshaw said...

THANK YOU for the link. Not too many similarities, I notice, save the basic premise.