Released 2008. Director: David Fincher
MARK TWAIN WROTE “AGE IS AN ISSUE OF MIND OVER MATTER. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” As humans we are naturally chronologically minded. We celebrate birthdays. We mark milestones based on how old we are: from the first-month celebration of a newborn to his 18th birthday, her 21st, the big 40, 51, 75... practically every birthday and any age is a cause for commemoration and celebration. So what do you do with someone who ages in reverse?
Benjamin Button arrives in this world the same way as any other person. Yet when he emerges from his mother’s womb he’s a baby as wrinkly and olden as an 80-year-old. He grows in reverse, as a weak old man with problems walking to middle age to strapping, energetic youth to a child and finally, a helpless infant.
Originally a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eric Roth has expanded The Curious Case of Ben Button into a sprawling, lavish tale of time and its ravages as seen through the eyes of an oddity of nature. How disorienting is it when family and friends grow old while your body and mind travel in the opposite direction? How insubstantial would you feel when you’re displaced in time? How do you build and sustain a meaningful relationship with the one you love, when the two of you will end up one very old and the other very young? Perhaps time will find a way to tell. But a man like Ben Button doesn’t reckon time the same way you and I do and the movie unfurls his timeline like an endless scroll, scribed with poetry and imprinted with indelible images.
Director David Fincher’s visionary finesse is the crowning glory of this sumptuous film. In the past, Fincher’s movies have dazzled us with some of cinema’s most memorable visuals, from Edward Norton’s apartment coming to life like an Ikea catalogue in Fight Club, to vertical and horizontal gliding through furniture and keyholes in a four-storey house in Panic Room. Seen through the lens of cinematographer Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Ben Button shimmers with warmth. Its colours contain an earthy richness that reflect the breadth of emotions, a golden hue lights up the characters as if an autumnal sun is setting as they become aware of life’s finite limits.
At the heart of Benjamin Button is a love story that transcends the boundary of time. Benjamin and Daisy first meet when he’s a wizened man with one foot in the grave and she’s a precocious young girl. Their unlikely friendship, the backbone of the story, grows into a brilliant blossom when Ben and Daisy’s ages cross and the lovers finally meet halfway, as she’s growing older, while he’s only getting younger.
Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett carry this peculiar tale of love trapped in a bizarre trick of nature with grace and understanding. In Ben’s eyes we see not only the joy of youth, but his helplessness that every person in his life slips by in a different direction. Daisy understands that her love for Ben means she’s reaching for the impossible. Though heartbroken, she finds serenity to accept the inevitable.
Whilst The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is about life and love, death is a recurring motif. By the time the movie ends, all the major characters have found their final exits. Ben’s mother dies in childbirth. His father passes as he gazes in peace at his last sunrise. His friend perishes in a hail of enemy bullets at war. His adoptive mother dies of old age just as Ben reaches the prime of his life.
Every departure is a moment of devastation and profound sadness. Eventually, even Benjamin himself breathes his last – as an infant. Daisy’s final moments coincides with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, the storm outside a reflection of an inner unrest when a lifetime of memories and secrets are finally revealed.
Benjamin Button is indeed a curiosity – a romance experienced from a singularly unusual perspective, a life lived anti-clockwise, and a man’s determined grasp of each passing moment.
"We're meant to lose the people we love.
How else would we know
how important they are to us?"