The Night Out: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008), or Beauty In Reverse Is Still Beauty

18 01 2009
The greatest of things are those which do not last.

The greatest of things are those which do not last.

Hello, patrons, and welcome to The Night Out! This is my attempt to inform the world of movies that are still in theaters. And today we are talking about another romantic film in the vein of Brokeback Mountain. Before we get on with it, though, I would just like to say that for me, films are primarily an art form. I watch so many movies because although I understand that by nature films are an incredibly shallow art, with little of the depth afforded by books or dance or paintings that allow the participant to linger over questions and thoughts, I feel that movies are among the most powerful mediums in art, because when a movie confronts you with a query it can force you back with the power and fury in which it asks. If you are going to see a movie for reasons other than aesthetic value, you might enjoy seeing a movie like Bangkok Dangerous or Iron Man based purely on how much it entertains you and your imagination. And that’s fine: movies are a fun way of escaping from your worries and I think we all like to watch more light-hearted fare to laugh and enjoy ourselves. But I do not review movies based on that alone. I am somewhat of a more intellectual creature, and if that makes me an elitist and a film snob, well whoopdy-doo. I hope you’ll enjoy my work regardless, guys.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie loosely based on the short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And by “based on” I mean it took the most basic of premises and they kept the name of the main character. It’s 2004, and a woman sits with her aged mother in a hospital in New Orleans. The mother is dying, and the woman, her daughter, is saying her farewells. The mother points across the room to a book and asks her daughter to read it to her. It is a diary, and it tells the story of a man named Benjamin who was born on Armistice Day, 1918. His parents abandoned him, relegating him to the doorstep of a retirement home. The matron of the home, named Queenie, took him in instead of turning him over to the police or an orphanage. He was abandoned because of what he was. You see, Benjamin was a man with a very odd affliction; he was born old. That is to say, when he was born he had the appearance of a seventy year-old baby (wrinkles everywhere!!). And thus begins a fascinating tale of age with no age, youth with no youth. It is the story of a man who goes through life aging backwards, a condition that seeks to cripple his relationship with everybody around him. It is a meditation on the beauty of life, and the fact that life is beautiful because it is brief.

What a well-made film. The story is crafted like a clock. Things that are precise and exact like this are very fragile, and in the hands of someone less capable it would have fallen apart. But David Fincher does a great job in capturing the odd life of someone who would have to live with such a condition. With dark, natural tones he creates a moody, mysterious New Orleans filled with magic. He continues to amaze me every film he does with his technical expertise. The short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald was sketchy and honestly not very compelling, so screenwriter Eric Roth (from Forrest Gump, another character who brushed hands with time and history) punched it up and made something that actually trumped one of the Jazz Age’s most influential writers. The plot is rich, it has depth, and it is very textured. Great job, folks!

As if I haven’t ranted enough today, I wanted to say a little something for the sake of discussion. Now, as some people out there may know, I have a bit of a problem with super-pretty people in my movies. It takes me out of a movie when the main character is clearly way more physically attractive than anybody who exists in that world. It is distressing when I have to watch average people who are just as splendorous and wonderful get marginalized by hyper-attractive ones. It feels like physical elitism in a way, as if us “normies”, non-Adonis types, could never star in a movie like this, could never attain such stature. I feel regular people are much more beautiful than genetically-chiseled mutants like Brad Pitt, but the movies obviously don’t feel the same way. That being said, we have not one but two freakishly perfect leads in this movie, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. This does not affect my decision in any real way; a performance should not be based on looks, and that is that. I just had to get that off my chest. End rant.

Now, how do they perform? Well, Pitt is Benjamin Button, and he is somber, rarely excited. He is old no matter what age he is, and his temperament is level with maturity gained from the weight of this knowledge. So, to be honest, Pitt is really a diving board in this role, a platform for other performers to tack on their feelings, their dialogue, and expound from there. He spent hours upon hours in make-up, I am sure, and while that in itself is commendable, Cate Blanchett is the real trooper here. She is Daisy, the old woman in the hospital, and the young woman who Benjamin falls in love with. She not only has to apply the make-up and act under such conditions, but she has to be a character who lives outside of the condition Benjamin has but also be directly affected by it. She makes the character come alive though, and when she is on the screen, she electrifies.

It is a movie that needs to be unraveled, as there are many emotional layers to the movie. This is a technically brilliant film, a film made by pros that actually dwarf the performers for me. Imagine a painting where the central figures are perfect in every way, absolutely stunning, but the oil on the canvas is spread in such a way that you cannot take your eyes away from the technique. That is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for me. I enjoyed myself thoroughly all 160 minutes. Not a wasted scene, not a flat line. It is a wonderful picture that is in many ways timeless, which is exactly what we humans are not, the film is keen to remind us. It will certainly have you talking when you leave the theater; about the premise, about life, about love. I give this film 9 wrinkled babies out of 10.

Come back tomorrow, where we discuss Immortal!