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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button



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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Curious CaseThe 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? 

Curious Case 2Director 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 





The 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.