One of the most anticipated dramas of the season, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” illustrates delightfully rich storytelling. Benjamin Button’s (Brad Pitt) journey is presented in a wistful, melancholic manner, emphasizing the rawness of loss, death and looming mortality. Director David Fincher’s haunting fable is unlike many other dramas of its kind. This epic tale is about a man who ages backwards, coming into the world as an infant suffering from all the infirmities of an 80-year-old man. As each year passes, Benjamin becomes younger and younger until he achieves infancy at the end of his life.
The film opens in a hospital with a young woman reading a journal to her dying mother about the tale of Benjamin Button. Not until later into the movie does the audience realize that the dying woman and her daughter have an intimate connection to this curious man. The story proceeds to tell the life of Benjamin with New Orleans during the end of World War I as the backdrop.
After losing his wife at childbirth, Benjamin’s father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) gets a glimpse of his newborn child only to be horrified at the baby’s ugliness. Soon after, he abandons the newborn on the steps of a New Orleans retirement home, where he is raised by a loving employee called Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). Benjamin may be a toddler, but as a balding child who wears glasses and is confined to a wheelchair, he fits smoothly with the older generation. At this stage of the movie, it’s only Pitt’s heavy make-up we are viewing, while it is digitally imposed on other bodies.
The central figure could have been chosen to be a more active character — a man of great things. Instead, Benjamin is more passive as events and people come into his life. However, this seems to be one of the winning components as to why this movie is so successful. Here is a man destined to become younger as the years go by; his fate is predetermined. Therefore, all that is left for Benjamin to do is to calmly observe, explore and make use of the time he has been given. The film emphasizes this notion by maintaining steadiness of tone and a mature awareness of the temporal nature of life, time and happiness.
When Benjamin is seven (but looks about 70), he meets a resident’s precocious but lovely red-haired granddaughter, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), who comes in and out of his life. Benjamin’s first taste of the outside world comes from his encounters with several colorful individuals, including a new occupant, the lively Ngunda Oti (Rampai Mohadi) and Mike (Jared Harris), a hard-drinking captain. On one of the voyages with Captain Mike, Benjamin has an affair in Murmansk with a sophisticated married woman, Elizabeth Abbott (Tilda Swinton). From these distinct characters, the audience can see Benjamin’s discovery of love, desire, companionship and ultimately loss.
While Daisy and Benjamin have several charged encounters, their love has not yet blossomed. The budding romance between the two seems to be hinged on the fact that they must come together at a precise moment in time. But despite their electrifying and sensual love, they are conscious about the different path each will take physically as they get older.
The poignancy of this love story lies in its impossibility. Both Pitt and Blanchett brilliantly portray the different ages and experiences their characters must undergo both dependently and independently. Their outstanding performances, along with the supporting cast, bring the tale of Benjamin Button vividly to life.
Although approximately three hours long, the overall impact this film maintains speaks volumes, from the excellent cast to the meticulous directing. In the end, the audience is left with a quick glimpse of a hummingbird, a symbol of the precious but fleeting moments that enter our lives. “Benjamin Button” is one of those rare films that leave a lingering impact on the senses and memory of its audience.