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Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The (2008) Print E-mail
Friday, 30 January 2009
ImageThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button is indeed one of the more curious films of 2008. Released on Christmas Day, it is adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1921 short story of the same name, and written by Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth. It tells the tale of Benjamin Button (voiced and played in part by Brad Pitt), a man who is born with a reverse-aging condition. It follows the trials and tribulations of his life that come together to make a gift of a story that director David Fincher delivers in a way that truly strikes the viewer's curiosity.

The film wastes no time getting into the swing of things by foregoing anything resembling a traditional opening credits sequence. It starts out with an elderly woman in her last moments of life in a southern Louisiana hospital in the year 2005 at the beginning of the devastating Hurricane Katrina onslaught. The woman has a journal once owned by Benjamin Button, who was born at the end of WWI. Just as quick as the ailing woman was introduced, we are taken back in time to the day the war was over. Benjamin's mother died bringing him into the world and his father couldn't even bear looking at the child, so leaves it on a doorstep of an old folks' home where a young caretaker (played by Taraji Henson) encounters him, names him and takes him into her care. The film captures some of the key life changing moments for Benjamin. He is born with severe arthritis and cataracts that render him blind – something you'd expect from an elderly man on his way out of the world. As he grows up, Benjamin's health improves and he goes through a unique path through life. We follow him through puberty, his first steps, the moment he falls in love with Daisy (played in part by Cate Blanchett), his first job, his first sexual encounter with a woman in a brothel, and unbeknownst to himself, his first night of heavy drinking with his father... all before the age of 17. From the moment Button is born you feel like you're spectating the timeline of a truly special life.

Cinematography in Benjamin Button is absolutely top notch. From Technicolor-like filters that capture the early decades in all their splendor, to breathtaking sunsets over the ocean, you can really tell Fincher and his production design team were aiming for perfection with every scene. To add to that, the makeup and special effects were astounding. The seamless insertion of Pitt's weathered visage on the body of actor Peter Donald Badalamenti was remarkable to the point where you forget that Benjamin is a completely fabricated person in his early years of life. Almost equally impressive was Blanchett's character, Daisy, and her transformation from a near goddess-like young dancer to an aged beauty. Although I struggled with the makeup convincing me she was past the age of 60 later in the film, she looked absolutely stunning through the majority of the picture.

Daisy was the love of Benjamin's life from the moment he met her, and the film did a splendid job in portraying that connection. The beginning of their attraction for one another was not very convincing at first, as it felt awkward and out of sync. However, it was remarkably counterbalanced by the chemistry they displayed once they truly did fall in love with one another and got together. The connection they made not only interlinked their love, but also completed the circle of all their missed connections and validated their awkward chemistry earlier in the film; which turned out to be an integral part in establishing their bond. Before this strong bond is formed, both Pitt and Blanchett get help carrying the film along by a remarkable and memorable supporting cast.

Benjamin shows his internal conflicts for the first time when Daisy tells him she is pregnant with his child. Throughout the film he seemed to not have a care or fear in the world, but once faced with the potential of putting another child through what he endured, he becomes afflicted and consumed with fear. The fear grows even after his daughter is born happy and healthy, and morphs itself into fear of burdening his family with his inevitable aging challenges to come ahead. He couldn't bear the thought of his love and his daughter having to care for him as he grew into a helpless infant, so he sold all his possessions, set up a savings account for them, and continued life as a lone nomadic soul.

While the film seems to break barriers on capturing an audience's attention and emotions, you can't help but make the argument that The Curious Life of Benjamin Button is Forrest Gump reincarnated. They both take place in the present South and follow a simple yet eccentric man with extraordinary circumstances and early physical limitations through emotional flashbacks and moments of life that inspire and command your imagination. When you really sit down and analyze the similarities of the two films, it's almost disappointing how the Benjamin apple didn't fall far from the Forrest tree at all. Counting the similarities goes on ad nauseam, so I will spare you the details. Screenwriter Eric Roth makes no effort to mask the parallels between his two screenplays, almost to the point that you are expecting a direct reference or cameo appearance to barge into The Curious Case. On the other hand, it worked the first time, as Forrest Gump was a critically acclaimed film which won dozens of awards. With 13 nominations for Button at this year's Oscars, on top of a handful of others nods, it's obvious that this emotionally charged template is a format for success.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a must-see for anyone looking to be touched by a movie like they haven't been in quite some time. It's nearly three-hour runtime is immediately forgotten once you become absorbed into the story. It is a visually stunning film with an emotional storyline that is just as powerful. However, it could have been a lock for a five-star movie in my eyes if screenwriter Eric Roth would have made at least some attempt to stray away from Forrest Gump's framework.

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