The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Movie Review


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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
(first ten minutes) *****
(the following three hours) **---

The first ten minutes of the Curious Case of Benjamin Button elicits the exact feelings that the film's title suggests. There is a curious wonderment as we are told the story of a forlorn father who constructs a clock in the memory of his slain son. His final creation is a stunning masterpiece, accompanied by a sense of reasoning so powerful it demands a response. The story quite literally flickers to life.

This flame of inspiration however is abruptly smothered by the rest of the film, which oddly enough focuses on the individual we came to see. Benjamin Button is first presented to us as an infant, but not quite. His new-born body is meant to be reminiscent of a 90 year old man. In reality it is more reminiscent of the elephant man crossed with a giant peanut. Kind of like the mole-man from the Simpsons.

For twenty minutes we are treated to watching this old baby grow up by growing down in age, and then twenty minutes later we are treated to an elderly version of Brad Pitt at a coffee table give his testimony of what we just witnessed. Twenty minutes after this we are treated to this exposition again. Something here should have been cut, or readjusted in the narrative. Wouldn't it be more interesting to see the old man who lived across the street from you to appear to be growing younger as you aged? There is no mystery here in showing Benjamin's origin. There is too much explanation and not enough events naturally unfolding.

By buying a ticket to watch a film about a boy born old and dying young, the film assumes that we have already bought into this concept. In doing so, the film treats it's material with a perplexing anchor in reality. The first fantastical ten minutes are completely out of place in a film which insists on realistically portraying one historical period to the next. There are occasional divergences, such as a rather exciting submarine battle, but for the most part the film settles on odd relationships between the central character and his love interest.

What the Curious Case of Benjamin Button wants to be is Meet Joe Black. What I wanted to see is Big Fish. The concept is so unusual and unique that it could have been a truly memorable experience, however there is something entirely forgettable about most of the film. It's first person perspective has narrative qualms, at times straying from reality for the sake of a set-piece. Take for example the existential scene in which tragedy strikes due to a taxi driver who took an extra sip of coffee. All this is narrated from the main character's diary. The scene works for the sake of entertainment, but it fails due to the fact that a first-person perspective would never allow this type of God-like perception. It's nit-picking, I know, but in a film which demands to be taken seriously, enchanting moments can't help but fall flat.

Oh boy, I've written all this but haven't even mentioned the narrative dead-end of the mother-daughter relationship in the midst of hurricane Katrina. Then again, there isn't much there to elaborate on. I will say that there is a lightning strike victim who may very likely have earned this film an extra star all on his own.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a film I liked less and less as it continued. The film is too long, too serious, and too expected for a subject matter that is so completely unique. For the very reason that it is mundane, the film fails to authenticate it's thesis. Even normal lives, and by normal I mean ones that run from young to old, are more magical than this.

Watch the first ten minutes when it shows up on HBO, then feel free to turn the channel.

1 comment:

Polly said...

This is why F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this as a short story, not a book. Crazy Hollywood.