The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is
one of the most visually stunning films I have seen in ages. Photography, visual effects,
costumes and makeup bring together a story spanning eight decades in
the life of a man who ages backwards. It’s a haunting tale
encompassing the themes of innocence, mortality, and the uniqueness
of every individual life. I saw it 24 hours ago, and cannot stopped
thinking about it.
Loosely based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Benjamin
Button tells the story of a baby, born at the end of World War
I, with the wrinkles and skin of an 80 year old man. Benjamin’s
mother dies in childbirth, and his father, grief-stricken and horrified
at the sight of the child, leaves Benjamin at a retirement home where
an aide named Queenie finds and raises him. As a child, Benjamin
looks like an old man, even though he has the mind of a innocent
child, taking in everything and everyone around him.
One day Benjamin sees Daisy, a beautiful red-haired
girl who comes to visit her grandmother at the home. Benjamin becomes friends
with Daisy, and looks forward to her visits. Eventually, Benjamin
decides to leave home as a young man (even though he still has the
appearance of a much older man) to work on a tugboat. He promises
to write Daisy, who herself leaves home for New York to study dance.
Benjamin’s travels take him to Russia where he enters into a
relationship with an older woman, the wife of an English spy. After
Pearl Harbor, the tugboat crew helps in the war effort, and, in a spectacular
scene, is fired upon by a submarine. Benjamin survives the attack
and eventually returns home to New Orleans. He once again encounters
Daisy, quite a lovely young lady, returning home from New York.
Eventually, Benjamin, physically ever younger,
and Daisy come together, buy a duplex, and settle down. (The film is unclear about their
marital status.) Daisy becomes pregnant and has a child. Benjamin
is relieved that his daughter does not share his condition, but, worries
that he will not be able to care for a child with his unusual condition. How
could she care for two children?
Director David Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth
do a wonderful job telling the story of the backward-aging Benjamin. I was drawn
in from the beginning, and even though the film is close to three hours
in length, I was never bored. Brad Pitt, giving the performance
of his career, gives the right touch to Benjamin. Unlike most
movies in which it is obvious when the star takes over from the child
actor, I was never certain exactly when Pitt began to play Benjamin. It’s
a great credit to the technical wizardry of the filmmakers that Benjamin,
even as a young child, seems to have Pitt’s face. The transformation
continues as Benjamin progresses in appearance from an older man to
a handsome young man to a boy and a child. It’s done so
seamlessly, it never seems false or phony. Cate Blanchett gives
Daisy great beauty, passion, elegance, and a love for Benjamin that
never stops. Blanchett has her own transformation. Her
graceful aging contrasts beautifully with Pitt’s surprising youthfulness.
Also effective in the cast is Taraji P. Henson as Queenie, who loves
the strange little baby as her own. The performances of the
fine cast keep Benjamin Button from only being a special effects
movie. I cared about these characters as characters. As
amazing as the effects are, it is the characters that make the movie. It’s
certainly not a freak show.
What makes Benjamin Button such a great
experience for me is the way it all the elements come together: the story, filmmaking,
and acting merge to create a dazzling and haunting movie. Benjamin
learns something from everyone he encounters in his unusual life, and
they all learn from Benjamin. All are unique expressions of God’s
creative genius, coming together in seemingly random ways to enrich
one another. We are all mortal. Our lives are short and
every moment is to be cherished. Ponder these great mysteries
in this season of the Incarnation.
Tom Condon, OP
USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification
is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating
is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate
for children under 13.