Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; fantasy drama, USA, 2008; D: David Fincher, S: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Spencer Daniels, Jason Flemyng, Jared Harris, Tilda Swinton, Elias Koteas
Daughter Caroline reads an unusual diary to her old mother Daisy, who is lying in hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina: after the end of World War I, Benjamin Button is born and rejected by his father because he is born old. Queenie adopts the unusual baby and it grows up in the nursing home. It quickly becomes apparent that Benjamin is aging backwards and becoming younger. He goes to work on a tugboat for Captain Mike. When he returns home after World War II, physically younger, he falls in love with Daisy, a ballet dancer. They have a normal daughter, but he abandons them because he doesn't want to be younger than her. Daisy finally finds him in the 90s as a little kid, until he dies as a baby.

Fantasy film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" picked up praise from the critics and earned 5 nominations for a Golden Globe, 11 nominations for a BAFTA and 13 nominations for an Oscar. It's story underwent through numerous interpretations, and critic Damir Radić actually went so far to claim that the child/old man Benjamin is actually a masked allegory about pedophilia, yet it's more directly a story about transience and an ode to becoming old. But to the overall surprise, such a magical and special story became sadly unmagical and ordinary in this film. "Benjamin" is really unbelievably average, sloppy and rushed at moments and thus it's not quite clear why it gained such acclaim. Precisely because of for the imagination stimulative concept, director David Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth didn't sufficiently exploit all the rich possibilities of the original idea about aging backwards. It's not quite clear why nobody pays much attention to the hero's state - when he returns home, turned physically from a weak 60-year old to a rather dashing 45-year old, Daisy just says: "Benjamin...? Of course it's you!" as if it's a normal thing that doesn't need to be explained. When the ship Captain asks him: "Am I drinking too much or have you become younger?" he just replies with: "You drink too much", and that's enough to resolve the issue. And wouldn't the neighbors of the nursing home also notice his aging backwards and report it to the media? It's somehow hard to accept that in modern times such a phenomenon would pass unnoticed.

In comparison to "Groundhog Day", "Invisible Man" and other excellent fantasy films that use fantasy elements to say something about the human state and society in general, this film is without any context, crammed with unnecessary scenes that don't have anything to do with anything (the surreal sequence about a clock worker who made a clock go backwards so that it "would bring back the fallen people in the war", which then cuts to the battlefield scene going in reverse where explosions go under and soldiers run backwards) and don't have any function in the story which seems lost. True, some scenes have spark, like when Benjamin - in his 60s by his physical appearance, but in his teenage state by his psychological appearance - goes on to sleep with a woman, a prostitute, for the first time, who gets surprised by the vitality of the "grandpa" in bed, yet most of them is just thrown in there to seem pseudo philosophical, like the trivial scenes of the hero in Ganges and Tibet. But, just like the hero's aging backward, here the quality is also going backwards: the beginning of the film is terrible, yet after 20 minutes it's already all right, then it becomes solid and towards the end it becomes really good. If anything, one must see the excellent ending - truly, the way the hero ends, is one of the most moving and touching endings of the decade, and that's why it redeems the film for the omissions.


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