The clock ticks backwards as old Daisy tells a story on her hospital deathbed in New Orleans. It’s just her reflecting with her daughter on their family history, all as weather reports warn of a quickly approaching hurricane named Katrina. Daisy tells her daughter about a blind clock maker who created a grand clock invented to run backwards. That way, the World War I soldiers would hopefully return home to their families. After this important historical memoir for the soldiers, Daisy’s daughter reads from the entirety of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, her father’s diary which tells of his life, starting with his birth on the day of America’s victory over the Great War.
Brad Pitt’s gentle and rough voiceover narrates the diary entries, describing in great detail how he as a baby came to the loving home of a humble African-American named Queenie. He was born with the physical build of a man in his late eighties, unfortunately accompanied by his mother’s death in childbirth. Disgusted, his father takes the deformed raisin of a child and leaves him on a front doorstep of another home. Everyone in the home says he has no chance of living, but Queenie sees him as a child of God who deserves a chance of life. Therefore, she takes the responsibility to raise the ugly baby herself. The next we see of this child is several years later, after he grew from baby-size to man-size. He appears like a senior but acts like a believable child with his curiosity of what lies on the other side of the road.
Yes, it means that rather than starting young and growing older, Benjamin started old and grew younger.
All the steps in Benjamin’s walk feel true to the period it depicts as if I was there in his shoes. Director David Fincher, who normally specializes in psychological thrillers such as Fight Club and Se7en, masterfully uses the screen to gradually illustrate Benjamin’s curiosity over America’s history.
The hospital enveloped over Daisy and her daughter glows a pale blue that contrasts from the brilliant blue of young Daisy’s eyes. The time before Benjamin’s birth is depicted with old film grain as if watched through a kinetoscope. The interiors of Benjamin’s childhood brims in burgundy and sepia, almost appearing like an old photograph without the grain or sepia tone needed. The church where he walks for the first time has an aged yellow appearance, highlighting this as the start of his walk toward life. With each place he visits through time, the music heard is either a gentle piano or whatever the most popular sounds of the era were.
This is perhaps one of the most artfully satisfying feature films of the previous decade, so much so, that it may distract contemporary audiences from grasping the film’s message.
Benjamin meets a lot of people over his eighty years of walking the earth, and they together generate over the near three-hour run time a series of smaller stories within Benjamin’s singular story. Each character, set piece, and visual metaphor has its own full story arc that meets a satisfying closure by the end, individually defining a purpose in the makeup of Benjamin’s walk through life.
He remembers in detail all the people of his youth, from his piano teacher to the lightning-prone long-time guest of his mother’s boarding house, who teach him what it means to live, and what it means to die. He remembers his first paying job as a tugboat worker, with a consistently drunk tattoo artist for a boss. He remembers his love life, which includes an affair with a discouraged woman who dreamed of swimming the English Channel. But most of all, he remembers Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett, in not quite her best performance despite how well she fits the part. There are many relationships depicted in Benjamin’s life, but none of them personally remind me of my own past relationships.
I cannot say that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a film that everybody can enjoy; it’s slow pace and bizarre concept is trying on the patience of most viewers. But its depiction of a man’s growth- or maybe I should say reverse of growth- is handled with so much authority and artistry that it commands us to consider our own walks in what to achieve before we die.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Warner Bros. Web. <http://wwws.warnerbros.co.uk/benjaminbutton/>.