Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (4/5)

“My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everyone else was aging, I was getting younger... all alone.”

This three-hour modernist epic is a cinematic account of the magical yet heartbreaking life of Benjamin Button. When he was a baby, he was born in the body of a failing 80-year old with arthritis, poor eyesight, and wrinkles. As time passed by, he aged backwards – getting a day younger than he was yesterday until he reached infancy at old age.

Director David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac, Panic Room, Fight Club) concocts a world on the edge of fantasy and reality. We are taken into an odyssey through time and place – from New Orleans circa 1918 to the time of the ravaging Hurricane Katrina, from World War I to the 21st century, from Broadway to French bordellos. The film’s grand production design is rich in elaborate setting, costume, make-up, and the impressive visual effects that transformed Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett from teenagers to sexagenarians.

“It's a funny thing about comin' home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You'll realize what's changed is you.”

Some may complain that it’s tad too long and that the pacing is slow, since the film introduces the events leading to the formation of Benjamin’s character as if they are chapters of a book. To its convenience, the film could have just set the narrative focus on the love story of Benjamin and Daisy, thus saving the film 30 to 60 minutes worth of running time. But doing so will eliminate the human element present in the story. We are deeply absorbed in this lyrical tale because we feel like we have known Benjamin like a sibling or friend. The emotions we feel for the characters are palpable because Fincher’s long narrative technique made this unusual character unusually accessible. As much as I would love to see more of the romance, it is the seemingly trivial events in Benjamin’s 80 years that made him a genuine human being.

“Your life is defined by its opportunities... even the ones you miss.”

Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) bathes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short story with magic realism in writing the screenplay of this sprawling womb to tomb saga. The film’s emotional touch point is the much-anticipated consummation of Benjamin and Daisy’s love story. They have all those chances to be together, but for a long time, they were merely counting missed opportunities. But when the timing was right, they finally met in the middle and caught up with each other. However, let truth be told of the ephemeral nature of life and the capriciousness of fate.

Although the film evokes a sense of melancholia and misery, it is brimming with anecdotes and philosophical reflections about life. There are lessons that will tug the heart of even the coldest, most apathetic moviegoer. Heartbreaking as it may be, it leaves an indelible mark on our consciousness. No doubt, this magnum opus will sweep you off your feet.

“Along the way you bump into people who make a dent on your life. Some people get struck by lightning. Some are born to sit by a river. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim the English Channel. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people can dance.”


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