Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

It's a joy to see a great director to take such a bizarre premise and decide to make a real movie out of it.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells the story a man who was born with the body of an 85 year old and grows up in reverse-- looking and feeling one day younger with each passing day. Benjamin Button begins life looking like a living corpse, and as time passes he begins to resemble an old Brad Pitt, and then a young Brad Pitt, and then an adolescent, and finally an infant.

A few weeks ago I read F. Scott Fitzgerald's original short story, which the movie is supposedly based on but has little in common with other than the title and premise (oh hey, the short story is public domain now, go read it yourself). Given this premise it easily could have been adapted into a straightforward comedy with a token touch of drama (see Jack), but it clearly presents itself as being something much deeper than that.

The movie's buried themes have to do with what it means to live and what it means to die. And there's a whole lot of death in here, often mercifully understated to the point that it feels commonplace. When Benjamin's adoptive mother dies two hours into the movie, it hardly has time to shed a tear before moving on. In fact, the final death toll is... hmm, everybody.

The story touches on so many issues of live, love, coincidence, regret, death... you can be forgiven for momentarily forgetting that the guy is aging in reverse. But if there's a single underlying motif to the life of Benjamin Button, you'll have to dig it out of the movie on your own-- it dances around different ideas about curiosities of life and the mysteries of mortality, always feeling reflective but never too sure what to reflect about.

With a running time of 2 hours and 47 minutes, it's a half-hour longer than Bicentennial Man, which is itself a too-long movie that spans a 200 year lifetime. That's a lot of time for reflecting on everything. Benjamin Button drags on his life story longer than he needed to, as is the tendency of movies with ambition these days, but I'm willing to look past this and appreciate a well-made movie's willingness to explore every facet of the man who ages backwards. After all, when are we going to get another chance?

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