The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Movie Review
Share This article
Based on the 1920s short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Paramount/Warner Brothers Christmas release captures the imagination and the senses with its dreamlike, almost mythic looking sets and locations and its exquisite cinematography.
Button is definitely one of those films that keeps playing back scene-after-scene in your head long after the house lights return to life and the daily grind sets in anew. And that is partly due to its artsy aesthetic and partly due to some of the moral and philosophical implications. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.
In a nutshell, the film asks these questions: What would it be like to live and love on this drama-saturated, adventure-filled earth if one were able to be born old and die young? Would it be a pleasure to be so spry in old age, or would it seem strange? And how about watching all your friends succumb to natural death while you carry on in extended vitality?
This is what Benjamin Button must come to terms with. And so there are dear moments of utter joy and crashing depths of angst and loneliness because of this strange twist of events for this man born in his 80s in New Orleans at the end of World War I.
After Benjamin’s mother dies in childbirth, his grieving father, Thomas (Jason Flemyng), is horrified to find that his little baby boy is severely disfigured. So Thomas leaves his newborn son on the stoop of the Nolan House, a retirement home where he knows the nurturing caretaker, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), works and lives. Queenie takes the baby as her own and loves him, despite his apparent ugly appearance and some of the misgivings of her longtime love, Tizzy Weathers (Mahershalhashbaz Ali), claiming that he is some ‘miracle child’ and raises him with all the wonder and unconditional love he needs. Queenie tries to bring normalcy to a situation that is extraordinary – Ben even as a toddler looks like a wizened old man.
Despite Ben’s apparent age issues, he meets the young child Daisy (Elle Fanning) and an innocent friendship begins. Soon Ben is off on a new adventure – one that will take him out of the retirement home and down a winding and difficult path to be with the love of his life, and one that will take him on many exciting seagoing adventures with some very interesting and unsavory characters.
The movie stars Brad Pitt in the title role – and, yes, he plays all the various age ranges, thanks to the wonders of technology – along with Cate Blanchett (as the graceful adult Daisy), Julia Ormond (Caroline), Elias Koteas (Monsieur Gateau), Tilda Swinton (lonely wife Elizabeth Abbott) and Jared Harris (Captain Mike).
Pitt’s astounding performance will likely garner him an Oscar. Playing a character throughout an entire lifetime is challenging enough. But doing so with a role that doesn’t do as much as he thinks and feels definitely raises the acting bar. What we see in Pitt’s version of Ben Button is mostly incremental inner growth and very small yet weighty moments, which can be extremely difficult to project on screen. Yet Pitt’s rather quiet performance doesn’t bore or confuse. His stillness attracts and is relatable. Few actors could have done the role justice. But Brad Pitt has a certain sensibility that really lends itself well to this type of poetic, literary performance.
And so, too, does Cate Blanchett, who is ever the exquisite leading lady. She is grace incarnate. How appropriate that her screen character would be effortlessly captivating as a dancer, for she practically glides on the screen. She is the perfect mix of youthful beauty, strength, and intelligence, and this mix serves her well as she plays the character of Daisy from a young, impetuous, and energetic dancer with big dreams to a mature and settled dance instructor and beyond.
Taraji is fabulous as the sweet and strong Queenie. She carries her own in every scene, particularly with Pitt. She beautifully portrays a nurturing mother without being stereotypical. And in those scenes where Queenie talks of Ben as some miracle of God and she speaks over him, “You never know what’s coming for you,” Taraji projects a groundedness that keeps Queenie’s spiritual sensitivites from becoming overly religious, empty proclamations. Queenie's words become almost mythic and prophetic in their importance, and this adds to the film’s aura of mystery and weightiness.
The movie’s sensuality is both beautiful and disturbing. And that, I guess, is what makes Button so curious, if I can use that term. At times you almost feel voyeuristic as you go through Benjamin’s life and watch him grow into himself and go through some very awkward physical and relational situations.
And sometimes it is downright icky when you come to realize that Ben’s first kiss is when he looks so old yet is truly quite young. Somehow it brings to mind the “dirty old man” idea. And then that same kind of feeling happens again, only in reverse, when Ben is face-to-face with a much older and married Daisy. He is practically a minor when he stops by her dance studio. And she is too old to be his lover. If there is one thing the movie shows in light of aging young, it is the awkwardness of being at the right place at the wrong age.
This exploration of life, love, and loss outside the typical bounds of age and time is intriguing, if not somewhat disturbing. Be prepared for a longer-than-normal viewing time and also for many lingering ruminations.
I wish I could give this a jumbo popcorn, because I really love the artistry and the storyline is fascinating, but I guess those extraordinary relational issues that are so woven into the plot make me squirm just enough to say I am not sure I like that. So it’s a small popcorn rating for me.
Share This article