Watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button feels like sipping a warm cup of tea in the cold, early morning, warming your hands while you review the night’s dreams--- one of those dreams so oft had and never remembered, stored in that part of your memory where you can’t reach what had just played out in your mind’s eye.
David Fincher and writer Eric Roth, with source material by F. Scott Fitzgerald, took it upon themselves to convey one of those dreams. Fitzgerald wrote over a hundred twenty short stories and only a handful of them, maybe two or three, had any sort of magical element. Benjamin Button is of course one of those. In short, the protagonist ages in reverse: Benjamin is born old and becomes younger as the years go by.
I think the studio wanted it to be perceived as a straight sentimental romance movie, and viewers expecting that, expecting some kind of nice comfortable love story, will be disappointed. It isn’t one of those. It is instead a biography about death and aging, loss and longing, and living life. There’s something commendable in this: the story just happens, life just happens to Benjamin, without a by-the-book Hollywood plot. Not one of those hard three-act hook, line, and sinker plots.
Some will criticize the film for this. It just is. It just happens. The love story between Benjamin and Daisy threads the movie together but is not always the conflict at hand. It is more a meandering bildungsroman novel, following a character though life as he develops, than it is a short story about a central conflict. The 2 hour 48 minute running time seems necessary; to tell the truth, I don’t recall a single scene that could easily be cut. Some people will disagree. In fact a few people left the theater before the film finished. It boggles the mind.
Well, the framing could have been cut--- the story is told by Daisy on her deathbed, with her daughter reading through Benjamin’s diary. That in itself works fine, but they are sitting in a hospital while Hurricane Katrina approaches. Why? Placing the story in New Orleans added a compelling, tone-appropriate layer of history and fantasy, but the impending shadow of Katrina is nebulous in its purpose. The name distracts from the story at hand--- Benjamin’s story.
Nonetheless, the magical realism of the film uniquely treads upon the universality of human experience: we are all young and learning, we are all old and dying, and in between you better appreciate your minutes, regardless of which direction you might be going.