Oscar Movie Month: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" Review

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Inspired by the 1921 short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this fantasy drama film chronicles the life of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) who somehow ages backward. Already an old man when he's born, Button proceeds to get younger as time passes. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy, the love of his life.
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Rating: PG-13
Length: 166 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2008
Directed by: David Fincher
Genre: Drama / Fantasy / Romance

Loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 short story of the same name, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" follows the life of a man who ages in reverse. The film earned 13 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won three: Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup and Best Art Direction. It is no wonder, considering the wide range of ages its lead actors portray throughout the lengthy film. David Fincher, known for the film adaptation of "Fight Club," directed the movie. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett played the lead roles.

The movie opens in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina strikes. An old woman (Cate Blanchett) asks her daughter to read to her from a journal left to her by a man named Benjamin. Viewers soon learn that Benjamin (Brad Pitt) was born on the last day of World War I and that his mother died following labor. The newborn Benjamin is ancient and withered. His horrified father leaves him by the front door of a senior citizens' home. The facility's maid, a kindly woman named Queenie, takes the baby as her own.

In large part owing to his appearance, Benjamin fits in just fine at the home. However, it is not long before he realizes he is growing younger rather than older. While still a child, he meets the green-eyed, red-haired Daisy (Blanchett), a girl not much younger than himself. The two take to each other nearly immediately, despite the oddness of their pairing.

When Benjamin leaves to join a tugboat crew, he and Daisy correspond by letter. She is upset to learn that he has fallen in love with a married woman (Tilda Swinton). The two have a son together named Roscoe.

Later, Benjamin's affair ends and he returns home to learn that Daisy has grown up considerably, becoming a prominent dancer. They grow close, but, just as it appears they are bound to become lovers, Benjamin rebuffs Daisy's invitation to sleep with her. Daisy, hurt and humiliated by the rejection, then leaves for New York where she immerses herself in dancing and a busy social life. Benjamin, meanwhile, leaves to fight in the Spanish-American War.

In middle age, Benjamin and Daisy encounter one another again, this time striking up a genuine romantic relationship. They move in together and have a baby girl. At first, all is bliss. However, as Daisy grows older in appearance, Benjamin grows younger in appearance, causing her to worry about him losing interest in her.

Benjamin, in the meantime, worries that as he regresses physically, he is bound to become unable to care for his wife and daughter. Eventually he leaves, convinced he is doing the right thing for his family.

Pitt plays his role expertly, despite being covered in makeup and prosthetic facial features, infusing his character with the wonder and confusion a person in his position would no doubt experience.

Blanchett's performance is one rooted in grace, and not just because her role involves dancing. She plays her character believably from the age of 17 until death as an elderly woman. She manages to nearly hypnotize the viewer in a scene in which she attempts to seduce Benjamin with her ballet moves.

The film's screenwriter Eric Roth, who won an Oscar for his work on the equally epic film, "Forrest Gump," brings an element of the mythic to the film, while Fincher brings his gloriously out-of-step, often critically acclaimed style to the overall production.

Fincher insisted on keeping Pitt and Blanchett in the lead roles throughout the film, despite the fact that Pitt's character aged backwards and Blanchett's in standard chronological order, both spanning decades, requiring elaborate makeup and editing. As a result, the movie took more than two years to make.

Famous American writer Mark Twain once wrote that "life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18." However, those who watch "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" are likely to conclude that such a trajectory would bring with it its own set of challenges and frustrations.

In many ways the film reminds viewers that life is made up of a considerable amount of pain, sadness and loss. In the end, it doesn't seem as if that is necessarily something to regret but a part of what makes for a life of feeling and memories. That just might be what Fincher had in mind with this adaptation of Fitzgerald's much shorter, far less emotional original work.

Rating: 4 out of 5