‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’


‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ | Mike Parnell, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett star in 'Benjamin Button.' (Paramount)
Time does strange things to opinions as moments for deeper reflection can alter what one originally thought. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a good example of how my opinion changed.

Time does strange things to opinions as moments for deeper reflection can alter what one originally thought. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a good example of how my opinion changed.

When I first saw it, I thought it was wonderful—well acted, beautifully photographed, larger than life. But now, I don’t like it as much as I did.

The story begins with a story. We see an aged woman on her deathbed, and she tells of a blind clockmaker. The clockmaker had a son who went off to the Great War and died in combat. So the clockmaker fashions a timepiece that runs backward for a train station. He wants to see his son and all the other sons felled in battle return.

The story becomes the reading of a diary by the daughter (Julia Ormond) of the dying woman. The diary is that of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a man born on the day of the Armistice, who is born an old man and “ages” in reverse. Benjamin’s mother dies in childbirth and his father (Jason Flemyng) abandons the child to the steps of what turns out to be a home for the aged. Benjamin comes to live with an African-American woman (Taraji P. Henson), who he thinks of as his mother.

And it is here that the story moves into places that begin to change my opinion. Benjamin meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett), the granddaughter of one of the residents at the home. Being smitten by this beautiful girl, Benjamin attempts to develop a relationship with her, but he is an old man. Yes, he is a child as well, but he looks like an elderly man. It is not right for him to be with this child, he being a man.

This is the problem with the story. It presents us with a worldview that says just because you love, you should be able to be together. It does not account for reality. It only declares that we can be with the one we love no matter what the conventions of society. This is a subversive story. Yes, it is wonderful to behold and we know the truth, but no one else in the story does.

Benjamin also has an affair with a married woman (Tilda Swinton). Hers is a loveless marriage to a distant, absent diplomat. Benjamin is just finding his way in the world. She tells him he is never to say “I love you” to her. It is all about the physical and they go through the motions of a relationship. All the while she thinks this is a mature man, and we know the truth.

What the moviemakers—director David Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth—want us to do is to see how precious life is based on this life lived in reverse. But there is something wrong here that doesn’t get named. When you encounter Benjamin, he looks to be something he is not. Whether he is a boy in an old man’s body trying to love a girl his own age, or a boy who is really an old man being cared for by an old woman, we are presented with a worldview that is wrong.

Benjamin Button is a man cursed. Yes, he lives his life and seems to touch others with it, but it is a life that is cursed. My opinion changed when I realized this one point.

One of the things I look for in the movies is a world where redemption can happen. Redemption is driven, in my mind, by the truth that life, no matter how badly lived or badly presented, can find a measure of redemption.

My post-viewing reflection causes me to believe this movie gives us no redemption. It is vanity of vanities, all is vanity. I am sure some will say I missed the point; the movie is a fantasy. Yes, but even fantasies need some larger point, and life being lived in reverse is not a point large enough to merit my praise.

Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking.

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Eric Roth (based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Cast: Benjamin Button: Brad Pitt; Daisy: Cate Blanchett; Queenie: Taraji P. Henson; Caroline: Julia Ormond; Thomas Button: Jason Flemyng; Mr. Gateau: Elias Koteas; Elizabeth Abbott: Tilda Swinton.

The movie's official Web site is here.

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