By Mario Ricciardi
Benjamin Button is a myth — the tale of a man who ages backward. Born as a baby in an old man’s body to dying as an old man in a baby’s body, it is marketed as a story about life. For me, however, the film says more about death than life. At Benjamin’s introduction on screen, the thought is planted, “We’ve seen his birth; what will his death be like?”
Originally a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Benjamin Button was never written with any clear ancillary. Apparently, written just to play with the idea of a man aging backward, screenwriter Eric Roth spins “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” into a study of those final moments with our mortal coil.
Ultimately, the film reveals itself as a love story. Benjamin, played by Brad Pitt, meets Daisy, played by the always incredible Cate Blanchett, at a young age — an age when his appearance does not allow things to progress. Conclusively, they must meet in the middle. Traveling from 1918 up to 2005, the couple’s love spans decades and locations from the mystical town of New Orleans to dark and dreamy Russia, to New York, and back to New Orleans. The film consistently comes full circle, mirroring its depiction of life.
Beautifully executed, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of David Fincher’s few attempts at something that’s not directly cold, bleak and involving serial killers. Using state-of-the-art equipment to age Brad Pitt, the film has viewers staring at both the past and future all at the same time. Through Fincher’s vision, we get an homage to death in a contradictorily fantastical and melancholy way.
Occasionally, the film teeters in the direction of one of those “old people in a bathtub” commercials, but for the most part, balances the mythical aspects with reality. The film can honestly be categorized as a fairytale for adults, not in a twisted sense, but rather in its truthful depiction of just how strange and wonderful life can be.
In the same way as mirroring chimps to humans in “Planet of the Apes,” it leads to a unique retrospective on the human condition, and so does aging a man backward. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” encourages the viewer to see themselves in every character and opportunity or setback Benjamin faces. Then at the end, it does not necessarily ask us to live a better life because of death, but rather to accept that without death there is no opportunity for life.
When so many stories make death the footnote, Benjamin Button makes it the reason that his story is worth telling. Sure, strange nuances like aging backward can provide a distraction, but in this case (no pun intended) I believe it provides clarity. We want to see ourselves in stories, but only just enough — just enough that the message can get through without our personal lives, complicating it. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” isn’t about life — it’s about death, and that’s an okay thing.
🐧🐧🐧🐧 (4/5 Penguins)