THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON ****
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is unique in its odd artistry. But it possesses so much wisdom and benevolent power that it’s easy to fall under its graceful spell.
It’s an adaptation of a short story by the legendary F. SCOTT FITZGERALD.
BENJAMIN BUTTON (BRAD PITT) was born in 1918 in New Orleans. But there is nothing ordinary about him. He ages backwards. When he’s an infant he looks like a little old man and he becomes more attractive and vital as he progresses through his existence.
After his mother dies in childbirth, his father flees their home with him. His first impulse is to drown the strange looking baby. Instead he leaves him on the front steps of an old age home. He is found by the ultimate earth mother, QUEENIE (TARAJI P. HENSON), who takes care of the residents.
Queenie raises Benjamin as her own. She and the elderly people that live there become the only real family he has growing up.
Benjamin has difficulty moving around. Queenie takes him to a church revival meeting in the hopes of being healed. The preacher asks the wizened little man in the wheelchair what age he is.
“Seven,” he croaks. “But I look a lot older.”
From that day on, Benjamin can walk.
He proceeds to get more involved with the world around him. He finds the love of his life, DAISY (CATE BLANCHETT) during childhood when only a few years separate them. That fateful meeting is the beginning of a sentimental amorous obsession that never really leaves him.
But Benjamin feels the pain of being an outsider. He knows that, regardless of his emotional attachments, circumstances make it next to impossible for him to ever sustain any relationships that are lasting. Everyone else is moving in one direction. He is going in another.
There is a deep longing and a great sensitivity within him. But he’s outwardly cheerful and eager for new challenges. He’s determined to play the hand that he’s dealt.
Technically 17 but looking more like a 60 year old, Benjamin gets offered a job on a fishing boat with CAPTAIN MIKE (JARED HARRIS), who’s a bit of a rogue. The captain automatically assumes that he’s ancient. When Mike finds out that he’s been chaste his entire life, he insists on taking him to a brothel.
Benjamin’s companion for the evening is in shock. She can’t keep up. “Who the hell are you, Dick Tracy?!”
Benjamin has his first real relationship with a married Englishwoman, ELIZABETH ABBOTT (TILDA SWINTON). For a reasonably conservative Brit, she has a rather unconventional streak. She finds Benjamin appealing and ultimately difficult to resist.
Benjamin is a caring man. He is kind and forgiving. He runs across his father, who has always wondered about his son and how he turned out. He makes peace with his parent and a bond is formed.
But somehow Benjamin can never forget about Daisy. He will always find her, wherever she is in the world…
If DAVID FINCHER isn’t a genius, he’s the next best thing. After highly charged, incredibly focused motion pictures that were either sharply ironic or genuinely frightening (SEVEN, FIGHT CLUB, ZODIAC), he has fashioned a transcendent magnificent fable about love, loss, life and death.
ERIC ROTH’S screenplay is solid but not particularly outstanding. It does have some similarities to another film that he wrote, FORREST GUMP.
But BENJAMIN BUTTON is a fuller, richer, far more substantial experience. There are so many layers and potential interpretations of this story that you could see it repeatedly and find something new and fresh every time you viewed it.
It appears like the most glorious looking dream you could ever have. Cinematographer CLAUDIO MIRANDA (a veteran of other Fincher films) shows us sweeping vistas and golden sunsets that are almost indescribably lovely.
One particular scene has Benjamin sailing into the bright sunshine while The Platters’ MY PRAYER plays on the soundtrack. It’s all so sweepingly romantic that you almost can’t bear it.
The production values are exquisite and the costumes are grand. The music is also stirring and evocative. Fine southern jazz from different eras flows through portions of the narrative in an enticing fashion.
The acting (apart from one glaring exception) is excellent right across the board.
It was also great to see JULIA ORMOND again, portraying Daisy’s daughter CAROLINE.
The weak link, unfortunately, is Ms. Blanchett. She is thoroughly unbelievable as a dancer and never seems to catch fire as a passionate romantic interest.
BRAD PITT captures Benjamin’s soulfulness quite effectively. He makes you care about his fate and what will happen to him.
Ultimately, though, we all face the same concerns. Benjamin Button may be different in some respects.
But in his decency and humanity he has far more in common with the rest of the planet than he realizes.
Benjamin Button is truly one of us…