It was sometime in February 2009 that I went to my local, now closed, Cineworld to watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. As I sat alone, my much-preferred way of going to the cinema by the way, this highly anticipated film with a great cast would get me in ways which I never expected.
It’s as rare as rocking horse poo that a film gets me emotionally invested to the point of tears. In truth, I can’t even name another film that even comes close to arousing any similar sort of emotion or flowing disturbance in my tear duct area. I actually have to be alone to re-watch this film, just in case I get spotted with a teary eye. Yes, it’s OK for a grown man to cry but my male ego can’t get over the fact that this film beautifully upsets me.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button centres around a child born under unusual circumstances, springing into being as an elderly man in a New Orleans nursing home and aging in reverse.
Directed by David Fincher, the film is loosely based on one of F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short-stories. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an emotive, challenging and beautifully told tale. It’s a tale of loss, discovery and acceptance. It’s got no agenda, it’s not political or tainted, it’s just that very special thing on film – a human story.
The concept of having life backwards is thought provokingly horrible, none more so that it mirrors the more normal way of living one’s life. This harrowing and emotional mirrored journey is a concept explored in many old tales. Imagine the horror, the feelings of being old when young, and young when old. Trapped in a journey that meets the same end as others but diving down a path in reverse. This is why the film hits just the right emotional spot with me – it’s horribly reflective.
That said, I can certainly see why some find this film a difficult, somewhat boring watch as the themes and narrative path are, generally, for more patient and life experienced minds. There’s not a lot to excite those who simply watch a film for two hours of no-brain entertainment, and don’t get me wrong there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. Sometimes though, you just want a film to challenge your senses and test your emotional resolve. Its runtime is also a little heavy at 166 minutes, but this is a whole life story we are telling, even if it goes backwards. If you absorb it and let it in there’s just so much quality film here. It’s simply a ‘proper’ film, a big beautiful emotive masterpiece.
I expect its divisive nature was the reason it was justly nominated for 13 Oscar’s, but only came away with three. 2009 was to be the Oscar year of the more universally adored Slumdog Millionaire, Joker Ledger and Sean Penn’s brilliant portrayal of Harvey Milk. The Oscars it did win were for its Art direction, make-up and visual effects which, although justified, were simply not enough for such a terrific cast and crew. From Henson’s motherly love, Blanchett’s weird love lust and Pitts age-defying, age-defying, this cast, which also included Mahershala Ali, Tilda Swinton, Jason Flemyng and Julia Ormond, deserved so much more.
As for the director, the choice of Fincher was questioned at the time as the tale didn’t pursue his usual tone, twists or settings – which was probably the reason he took it on. Fincher would then go straight onto directing The Social Network. Without his excellent work with the Button cast, I doubt The Social Network would have paced its story in such a brilliant way and delivered such charismatic performances.
I always remember The Guardian newspapers miserable film snob Peter Bradshaw giving Button one solitary star. IMDB is not much better. To call the film divisive would be an understatement. That however is when you know you have a good film, if you like it of course. A film rated 10’s and 1’s has delivered something unique, and just like beauty, it’s attractiveness in the eye of the beholder.
Another reason why the film is so good is that it is also a time piece. Not only in the narrative sense, but not many films can cover an 80-odd year span of changing times with such beautiful ease. From the Great War to Hurricane Katrina, this time span allows characters to develop and we see the ravages of time, the journey of growth and the impending doom and demise of us all. The story is filled with such emphatic joy, mixed with tragedy, sorrow and the ranges of human behaviour. The cinematography, production and costume levels are second to none, fitting perfectly and holding together this slow, tragically beautiful story. Alexandre Desplat also delivers a musical score that sits perfectly among its fantabulous production peers.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button sits firmly in my top ten films of all time. It’s just so brilliantly tragic, brilliantly produced and wonderfully presented, whist at the same time being just so god damn absorbing.