The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Tony
Saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button yesterday. Good movie. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, it’s a tad long. Then again, it’s about one man’s life. Told in reverse, you could say, for sure.

I was most worried about the special effects of “Baby Benjamin.” In the end, though, it wasn’t that distracting. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were amazing in the movie. Tilda Swinton had a good turn as well, though she looks a little but too much like Blanchett for my tastes.

Because the film is more ruminative, there’s not much action. BB goes to war once, and that’s about it. So if you are looking for a movie to sit in and be washed over by, this is one. It lacks the conviction of Doubt and the exuberance of Slumdog Millionaire, but it’s still a solid viewing.

Marc
I saw Benjamin Button and didn’t like it that much. I don’t think these are spoilers. I thought it was slow and that there wasn’t a whole lot to grab my attention beyond the driving idea behind the story and it’s associated visual effects. I just thought it lacked tension and I really enjoy movies (or stories/writing for that matter) that set up tension, maintain it for an appropriate length, and resolve it satisfactorily. I didn’t think the movie was bad, but I didn’t think it deserved as much critical acclaim as it seems to be getting.

Reid
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Dir. David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, etc.
6/10

I think Penny has the best chance of liking this and maybe Jill. I think Grace would probably like this or least think it was OK. There might be some aspects of the film that Mitchell may like. I don’t think this is best picture material–and in that way, I agree with Marc that this is a little over-hyped. That doesn’t make it a bad movie, just not a great one.

**
It’s best to go into the movie with knowing as little as possible, but the most unique thing about the film is probably known to most people. Benjamin Button (Pitt) comes into the world as an old man; he’s an infant, with the problems of a very old man. As he grows in chronological age, his physical body gets younger. Abandoned by his real father, Button is raised and loved by Queenie (Taraji Henson), who is a caregiver at a convalescent home. At this home, Benjamin bonds with a young girl, Daisy (Blanchett) and eventually falls in love with her. But it’s a love that has to wait, until their bodies reach similar point of maturity. The waiting for love and the travels made by Benjamin through time and other places, as well as the superb technical work, make the film similar to Forrest Gump.

***
How would you live your life if you could start it with the kinds of knowledge you would acquire at the end of it? That’s one of the more interesting questions posed by this film. My assumption is that most people would be able to make better decisions and probably live with less regrets if they had this opportunity. There is a perspective I imagine you get at the end of your life–a clarity of what is really important and an acceptance of death (as soon as reached a level of understanding he expected to die any day)–that would increase the chances of living without fear, without much regret. I guess you could say Benjamin lives this way, but why do I feel let down? Ultimately, I feel let down because the filmmakers didn’t give me an interesting insights from the character and the character himself wasn’t so interesting as a result of his unique circumstances. Also, the two lead characters seemed a bit one dimensional for me, which wouldn’t have been so bad, if the actors had more charisma and chemistry between them. I think of a film like Titanic, which had very cliched, one-dimensional characters, but managed to work mainly because DiCaprio and Winslet were so appealing individually and together. This film lacks and could have used that same sort of chemistry. So while the performances were OK, I didn’t find them exceptional.

As for the story, I know what Marc means when he says the film lacks tension. I sort of agree with that, although I would say the “tension” or point of interest is in the way Benjamin and Daisy get together and how they will deal with Benjamin’s “aging” problem. I don’t think the final results make the film deserving of a best picture, but they’re enough to make the film mildly entertaining. I agree that with Tony and Marc that the film is on the slow side, but I didn’t feel bored because of those story elements I mentioned.

One final note. I was surprised to find out the film received many Academy Awards. The technical aspects of the film–the effects, the cinematography, set design, etc.–were all very good. This is a nice film to look at, and execution of all these different technical aspects of the film was an achievement. This quality, plus the epic nature and romance of the film, make this the type of film the Academy loves to reward. These reasons–more than whether merits of the film–make it a best picture nominee. There are other 2008 films that are equally good, if not better. And there are other films that will probably be remembered more than this one.

Addendum: I liked these comments by New Yorker critic, David Denby, from his piece, “Curious Cases: This Year’s Oscar Picks” (in which he has a low estimation of the best film nominees; I agree with him, fwiw):

As Benjamin makes his way, many people puzzle over the discrepancy between his age and his temperament. But who cares? The movie is given over to an infinitely patient and scrupulous working out of its own bizarre premise, and you come away from its sombre thoroughness with the impression that something profound has been said without having any idea what it could be.

Later,

Pitt’s modesty when he comes into his own handsome flesh is becoming, yet his eyes are unforgivably blank. Where is Benjamin’s exhilaration at shedding his infirmities? He tells us very little of what we want to know, which is how he feels about what has happened to him. Perhaps if you’re born old with an infant’s brain and get younger, you never know much of anything (including the ardencies and the anxieties of youth), but that kind of mental void doesn’t yield much of a protagonist.

I was half-amused and half-enlightened by this remark:

The central drama in the picture turns out to be Brad Pitt’s makeup. By degrees, lines and wrinkles fade; soft flesh tightens into muscle; a stiff, wobbly walk eases into a saunter. What is this strange movie really about? A guess: many people in Hollywood endlessly have “work” done to put off aging, and here’s a movie that begins with a wizened baby and ends with physical perfection, a progression that may encapsulate both the nightmares and the dreams of half the Academy.

Marc
Reid, regarding this comment from your post on Benjamin Button-

“How would you live your life if you could start it with the kinds of knowledge you would acquire at the end of it?”

Why did you think that Benjamin was born with the knowledge and experience of an old man? I just thought he was born with the body of an old man but the experience of a newborn and gained experience as time went on while losing years physically. In a way, this sort of justifies the complaint that the critic had- if Benjamin isn’t aware of how astonishing his reverse aging is, why would he react to it?

I’d also say that Brad Pill’s performance was more over-rated than the movie. How did his work justify an Academy Award nomination.

Reid
Benjamin Button spoilers

Marc,

Button doesn’t have all the knowledge and experience of an old man (he gained any experience). However, he is born with a broken down body and he must face death every day–two things that people near the end of their life have to deal with. I would argue that living with these conditions really gives older people a different perspective on life, specifically a sense of what is really important. Add to this condition, Button growing up in a convalescent home where death is a normal part of life and I think it would give Button a unique approach to living.

Why do you think Button wasn’t aware of how astonishing his reverse aging was? I think he is aware of it, at least at some point.

Finally, I do agree that Pitt’s performance is overrated, and I’m just as mystified as you as to his receiving a nomination.

Marc
We’re getting into semantics and I apologize since I brought them up. In regards to the question about why I don’t think Button knew his reverse aging was astonishing, it’s because he never showed astonishment. This is a big point of the Critic that you cited. But regardless, it doesn’t really make a difference to me in terms of how much I enjoyed the movie, which wasn’t very much.

And this is my thing about what Button may or may not have realized as an old man. The guy was never went to school and the only place he ever knew was that nursing home. During his formative years, old folks and death were probably normal for him. And I thought he did have a unique approach to life. Just to me, it wasn’t a very interesting or compelling one.

But this is all speculation about a movie that I didn’t particularly like, so I will cease now.

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