The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a film that delves into and follows the life of a uniquely born individual. That individual, as you may have guessed by the film’s title, is Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) and he is born extremely old. That is only one half of why his birth is special. The second part is that he ages backwards, getting younger as the years tick by. Because of his outward appearance, Benjamin is able to experience certain things far sooner in life than he would have if he looked and aged normally. This often results in many of the moments of levity within the film, as well as some character introductions and some exits.
The frame work for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is that of a dying woman being read to from the diary of someone else. It is through these words on the written page and the dying woman’s voice that the story of Benjamin Button unfolds.
One of the finest elements of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is that Benjamin is raised by a black woman, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), in a retirement home full of people his outward age. Benjamin’s adoptive home, where he is loved and welcome, is a sanctuary for him, one of the few places where he can feel normal. The fact that a black woman raises a white child in in America (circa 1918) is one of the most intriguing aspects of this film.
While in the retirement home, a new resident is soon visited by her red-haired granddaughter, Daisy Fuller (Cate Blanchett). Once introduced, Daisy has almost a constant presence in Benjamin’s life, whether she is on screen with him or not.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is more than a film about being young, growing old and dying, it’s an epic across a person’s life time in the United States’ past. It does not have the Civil War backdrop of Gone with the Wind, but it is just as respectful of the eras it represents and its characters are more authentic. Like in the aforementioned film, death touches most of the people in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in some way, no matter their personality traits or how worthy they are of it.
Though slow in some areas (never meandering), as are some in Lawrence of Arabia, it is the unexpected in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that make the film stand out from other period piece films. Benjamin meets a diverse group of people as he grows young, people that effect his perception of the world and others that bring new experiences into his life. Two of the people that have the most profound effect on Benjamin Button are a Tug Boat Captain, Mike (Jared Harris) and the first woman he every falls in love with, Elizabeth Abbott (Tilda Swinton). They are part of the world outside of the retirement home and usher in world events, some of which Benjamin takes an active part in. Throughout all of these events, Benjamin grows younger as Daisy grows older. After many years and many trials (some beautiful, some harsh) in each of their separate lives (though Benjamin wrote post cards to Daisy for many of those years), they eventually meet again and fall in love. It is very interesting seeing how a man and a woman handle being in a relationship where they are both aging in the opposite direction. Common couple themes pop up such as insecurity, appearance, compatibility, longevity, etc. When the film settles down into exploring some of these issues is where The Curious Case of Benjamin Button might lose some people who were expecting something else from the film while gaining the interest and attention of others.
David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a beautiful film about life and death, lavish in its sets and details. Films of this quality and scope are not made often, films about the turbulence of living and cosmic disruption of dying.