Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Movie Underscores Theme Of Appreciating Life

By JANE WILSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published January 1, 2009

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a beautiful fairy tale of a film. Although it moves slowly in spots, it never loses track of its central theme of living life to its fullest.

Directed by David Fincher and with a screenplay by Eric Roth, “Benjamin Button” is very loosely based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The title character is born under curious circumstances—he is actually born as an old man and becomes more youthful as he gets older. Benjamin’s mother dies in childbirth, and his father abandons him, providentially on the steps of a retirement home. Taken in by the resident housekeeper, Benjamin readily assimilates into the world of the residents, and this proves to be the ideal place for the old/young boy to grow up.

Benjamin’s life changes when he meets Daisy, the young granddaughter of one of the women in the home. They form an instant connection, and their relationship provides the narrative backbone of the movie. Viewers follow Benjamin as he goes out into the world as a sailor and later returns to his native New Orleans. Benjamin and Daisy seek each other repeatedly but never find their lives in synch until they meet in their middle age. Their love story is always touched with a hint of melancholy, as they know their connection can only be temporary because of Benjamin’s condition.

This is the case throughout Benjamin’s life—people come and go, they are born and they die. His upbringing in a retirement home gives Benjamin a clear understanding of death and the transitory nature of life very early. His condition only emphasizes this more. Rather than give in to sadness, however, he makes the conscious decision to appreciate every moment of his life and the people in it.

This is a powerful message, one that Benjamin is able to pass on to those he meets and loves. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” has been compared often to “Forrest Gump,” and there are many similarities to the earlier film’s “life is like a box of chocolates” mentality. Benjamin encounters several interesting characters as he moves through life, and his simple kindness and inherent respect for others inspire loyalty and compassion in those around him. This makes his life seem charmed as he makes his way around the world as a sailor, survives World War II, and pursues Daisy through the 1950s and ’60s.

The performances in Benjamin Button are good overall. Brad Pitt does a fine job with the character of Benjamin as both an old man with the exuberance of youth and a young man with the experience of age. It is curious to note, however, that one of the most attractive actors working in film today spends much of the movie covered in makeup that renders him much older or much younger than his age. Cate Blanchett also does a creditable job as Daisy, impulsive and headstrong without being obnoxious. One of the film’s other standouts is Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth Abbott, a diplomat’s wife with whom Benjamin has an affair in Moscow. She makes the most of a small part, and the character is the most compelling in the film.

Although never depressing, the tone of the film overall is nostalgic for the people and places Benjamin has to leave behind. With a running time of close to three hours, this makes for a long—and slow moving—movie. In addition, the film uses a narrative frame, introducing the story through Daisy as an old woman in the hospital. Her grown daughter reads Benjamin’s diary to the dying woman as (viewers learn through the television in the background) Hurricane Katrina approaches. While the necessity of including a framing device is debatable, the addition of the hurricane and impending disaster is incredibly distracting.

If the film has some flaws in its narrative, the cinematography has none. The movie is beautifully filmed, with both people and places shown in their best lights. New Orleans looks gorgeous in both its incarnation in the 1920s and 1930s during Benjamin’s golden childhood and the 1950s and 1960s as he discovers it as an adult. The characters are also filmed lovingly, and the effects and makeup are consistently believable even in such a fantastic tale.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a touching and thought-provoking film of a man who lives in difficult circumstances with a great deal of grace. Although not a perfect film, it powerfully promotes the idea that one should live life to the fullest and love others as much as one can. This is a message that can apply as easily to real life as well as it does to fairy tales.

Jane Wilson, a local writer and movie enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.