Adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short story, David Fincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008) is beautiful, wistful, and otherwise pretty empty.
The film begins with an old woman (Cate Blanchett) on her deathbed in a hospital that is about to be struck by Hurricane Katrina. She asks her daughter (Julia Ormond) to read a diary kept by a man named Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), who claims to have been born in his 80s and lived his life in reverse. Through this lens, we follow his strange life from beginning to end and his also the life of the old woman, whose life intersected Button’s while she was growing older and he was growing younger.
Through this lens, the film explores life and death and how to live a full life, as Button meets various characters who teach him lessons from their personal philosophies–e.g., embrace the body you were born with, become whatever you want to be regardless of outside pressure, and nothing lasts so live life to the fullest while you can. Meanwhile, Button meanders through early 20th century America like an inconsequential Forest Gump, learning and living and finally connecting with the love of his life.
It’s all quite beautiful, the device of aging backwards is interesting, emotionally there’s a soulful longing in the story, and the film leans toward the philosophical by asking the question, what does a human life mean when all life ends? But the answers are fairly vapid, and we never really see Button changing or growing based on what he learns, so we assume he’s become wise without knowing how or why or even to what effect. Everybody he meets is pretty kind to him, and he never really faces much adversity aside from his fundamental condition. As a result, I just couldn’t connect with the film emotionally aside from a general discomfort at being reminded of my own mortality.
At the end of the film’s nearly three hours, I asked the same questions of the film as I should probably ask of existence–what does it all mean? Is there a point?–but I will say I enjoyed the way the three hours passed. It really is a beautiful film, as charming as FOREST GUMP but not as saccharine, with superb acting and direction. So I guess I’d recommend a watch if you haven’t seen it yet. (Seen on Netflix)