The curious case of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

30 December, 2008

As I stepped out of the cinema where I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I was in a daze. For the nearly three hour running time, I had been transported into David Fincher’s imagination, one that is cinematic in the best senses of the word. It isn’t real life; It is better than real life. Every image you see, every sound you hear, every character you encounter is like a diamond: Not without its flaws but bewitching nonetheless.

An hour later, the feeling was gone…

And therein lies my problem with the picture. Something as visually and aurally impressive as Benjamin Button should still be affecting the way I look at the world these 16 hours later and yet I struggle to even remember what it was about the film that made me feel this way in the first place. All that flashes to mind are the several set-pieces; all dazzling and all moving enough to make me constantly teary-eyed but for all its cinematic jewels, Benjamin Button is lacking in the one department it desperately needs: A heart.

Fincher’s style has worked in the past because he has always dealt more in ideas than feelings. Se7en uses its genre as a sociological discussion on the nature of the serial killer; Fight Club is nothing if not a two hour manifesto reaching out to anyone disenchanted with modern-day materialism; Zodiac takes the form of the puzzles that its main character is obsessed with. Not only does Benjamin Button fall short of the sort of idea that made the above films so interesting, but as far as warmth and emotions go, the best Fincher can conjure up is whimsy. And that’s never good for a love story.

Part of the problem is that the first half of the film deals very little in the love story. Instead, after Benjamin grows up and takes in the usual clichéd life lessons and then goes off on a couple of enjoyable but ultimately fruitless adventures. Whether it’s the bawdy tugboat captain or the jaded English housewife, nobody in Benjamin’s life seems to have any lasting effect on him whatsoever. Except, of course, for the love of his life. While I was watching the film, I found the build-up to consummation the most moving of its passages, but part of the problem in retrospect is that because the concept is so outlandish, I find it difficult to recreate the same feelings I had for their relationship in my memory.

Luckily, Pitt and Blanchett are capable of what Fincher seemingly is not: Making you care about these people. Blanchett is at her best here, perhaps because this is one of her least flashy performances (Except when she plays the character as an old lady on her deathbed.) Pitt is understated from the beginning, and his performance is downright heartbreaking. I’ve always defended Pitt’s acting abilities, and this point, I’m convinced that the only reason for disagreement is that everyone else would rather worry about his love life. But the work speaks for itself, and in the same way that one watches a Richard Burton performance without giving a damn about Elizabeth Taylor, people will look back at Brad Pitt as an actor first, and tabloid fodder second. The supporting players help carry the film quite nicely, from Tilda Swinton to Taraji P. Henson to Jason Flemyng to Julia Ormond.

And that’s my biggest regret with this film. Everyone is doing stellar work and yet none of it adds up to a hill of beans. I can’t think of a recent film I’ve wanted to embrace more than Benjamin Button so believe me when I say I take no pleasure in writing this pan. While so many directors have done nothing more than switch on their cameras and follow their actors around, Fincher is one of the few who tried to create an entire world through the linguistic elements of the cinema, and you know what? He succeeded. It’s a pity because I just don’t care.

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One Response to “The curious case of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

  1. coffee said

    i was pleasantly surprised to find out that Scott Fitzgerald wrote the short story upon which Benjamin Button (the movie) was based

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