Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

To grow younger seems like the ideal – youth is wasted on the young, and all that, so by the time you are young, but old in years and all that, you can enjoy the wisdom of your years. Or something like that. But for Benjamin Button, it would seem that growing young, rather like growing old, is a curse. Ultimately, Benjamin realises three things about growing young, the same of which could be said for growing old; no one is perfect forever, nothing lasts (isn’t that a shame) and "it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be."

This is not a Brad Pitt movie, in which Brad Pitt plays a man who becomes younger; he is Benjamin Button, whose burden it is to grow young before his time, to live his life backwards, as it were. He first walks, unaided, at age seven (or eighty-something), drinks his first beer shortly after, goes to a brothel (where he surprises with his teenager-like energy), gets drunk and has his first kiss when he is maybe 60 years old (or twenty-something) with Tilda Swinton, who is perfectly cast as an older, unhappily married woman with whom Benjamin has an affair.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is, at its heart, a love story of two people for whom the time never seems right, mostly because one of them is growing older while the other is growing younger. The story is told from Benjamin’s point of view, as Daisy’s daughter reads his diary aloud to her on her deathbed, whilst the horrible Katrina gathers force outside. Pitt’s voice is truly suited to voiceover as he recalls his life in a lilting Southern accent. As we remember his life with Daisy, the returns to her hospital bed become unwelcome intrusions in the story of Benjamin Button, born as an old man in a baby’s body, abandoned by his father who, distraught by his wife’s death in childbirth, cannot bear to look upon his bizarre face, and is adopted by the kindly and sterile Queenie.

As a youthful old man, with spirit and energy beyond his years, Benjamin first meets Daisy when she is seven, and he not much older. Though in that moment he falls in love, their time has not yet come. While down at the docks one day, a captain is looking for a man to do a day’s work. Benjamin volunteers, and so becomes part of the crew aboard the Chelsea. He travels to sea ports all around the world, from which he writes to Daisy from everywhere, and in Russia, he meets Elizabeth Abbott (Swinton.) In 1940, when Benjamin is only 22 (in a fifty year old body), the Chelsea is called to serve in the navy. After seeing many terrible things, he returns home, only to meet the lovely Daisy, now a twenty year old dancer (Cate Blancett, as captivating as always.) Over time, they will both meet again, but isn’t until they are both in their forties (by some estimation) that they can finally consummate their love for each other.

Benjamin Button Pictures, Images and Photos

There are two things that make this film Oscar-worthy; the witty, sharp, entertaining dialogue (“Would you still love me if I were old and saggy?" "Would you still love ME if I were young and had acne?") and raw passion and emotion of the acting in the film is what carries it. We do not need Daisy to tell us she could not stand seeing Benjamin becoming younger, better looking, as she became older. The devotion between Daisy and Benjamin is obvious. And the decision Benjamin has to make is painful and heartbreaking. From their first candlelit tryst under a table to their carefree years spent froliking in a New Orleans apartment, it is a sensual love affair, captured just as delightfully by the cinematography. The CGI aging effects are equally incredible. A middle-aged Brad Pitt (I mean Benjamin Button) on a motorbike or a sail boat is a fine thing indeed, but a young, 20-something Brad Pitt is a much, much finer thing.

I had a completely surreal experience in this film in that I lost all sense of time and space, until I saw a koala postcard, and, feeling a jolt of recognition and pride, remembered that I was, in fact, in Australia, in the middle of a warm summer’s afternoon, not in New Orleans, weathering out Katrina, or watching Daisy dance on a Parisian stage, sometime earlier in the last century. Sure and it’s a loooong film, but it is completely engaging, moving to the point of tears in several instances. It is well deserving of the 13 Oscars it has been nominated for, and I hope it is recognised and rewarded as such.




jacques du'loque said...

Brilliantly written, poorly acted by the major characters. Brad Pitt disappoints in this, though the wonderful side stories of the far more real minor characters makes it worth it.

A great movie, but not Great.


anahita said...

I just could not get into this film. I dunno why, but I couldn't. It wasn't a bad film per se, But I wouldn't have nominated it for half the stuff it was nominated for. However, I think you've written a great review :D xxxx

Celise said...

I disagree with both of the above. As would my husband (who's more into martial arts and action movies). We both really enjoyed this movie and I think for the CGI effects ALONE, should definitely garner an Oscar. You see him grow younger gradually not all at once, and I think that was fabulous.

I also agree with you about what you said here: "the returns to her hospital bed become unwelcome intrusions in the story..." I just kept wanting them to get back to the main story.

The story about the guy getting hit by lightning made us laugh every time. And he even got to act with his real-life child and I thought that was really endearing.