Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

We've Got 13!

When I was born my mom said I looked like an old man. Like everyone else, I turned out to be pretty normal, unlike The Curious Case of Benjamin Button where he's physically developing in the opposite, suffering from common aged ailments like cataracts, hearing, and arthritis first, but mentally developing in proper chronology. One can imagine the challenges of everyone thinking you'll die soon enough, before a miracle actually happens and you're like having drunk some elixir of life, probably a little too much too.

Some would compare David Fincher's movie to Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump. Both have charismatic characters living out a dream of a life despite the challenges that life had unfairly laid out for them, one being mentally slow, the other being physically not quite right. Like Gump, Button (Brad Pitt in various astounding make up and effects) lives an extremely fulfilling life, having their tale peppered with significant ground breaking events, some of which they get involved in, others just serving as bookends in a narrative that span lifetimes. These become wonderful stories to tell, like Tim Burton's Big Fish, and actually, quite inspiring too to live a life seizing any opportunities that come your way.

Similarly, Ben Button has a strong mother character to take care of him, and here's where Taraji P. Henson's Queenie gets her supporting Oscar nod. Working in the home for the aged, Ben's father Thomas (Jason Flemyng) abandons the odd looking infant at the footsteps of the home, only for Queenie to show extreme compassion, and to bring up the infant like her own, full of love, blind to the fact that he is physically very different from everyone else. And Love is something Ben isn't falling short of, having to meet and love the very captivating Daisy (Cate Blanchett), where their initial encounter being very much frowned upon, like a dirty old man trying to take advantage of a sweet young thing.

It is this love that anchors the bulk of the second act, which makes it touching yet sad as you know of the collision course where this love is heading toward. I recall a scene in another movie, and you may have heard variations of this tale, where a woman asks her husband whom he preferred to meet their Maker first. The man says for his wife to kick the bucket before he does, only so because he wouldn't want her to suffer from a broken heart before her time, and to let him be punished that way instead. It is this nagging feeling that the characters experience, and both Blanchett and Pitt's performances allow the audience to empathize.

David Fincher is best known for his darker movies like Panic Room, Fight Glub, Se7en, and Zodiac, and I thought The Curious Case of Benjamin Button continues this trend, in that it's draped in melancholy through and through. There's always a sad tinge to the events in Ben's life, because growing up with older people around you would mean that you experience death a lot more than growing up with peers. But that's not to say it's always doom and gloom. There are certain lighthearted moments thrown in to break the heaviness, and those lightning stories will certainly be fondly remembered way after the end credits roll. Fincher too displays some deft storytelling techniques here in keeping the narrative from turning stale, and one extremely well executed scene involved plenty of What-Ifs that lays out what Fate would have decided for anyone.

To some, Benjamin Button may seem boring, but they are totally missing the point. The 166 minutes here were paced fabulously, never wasting any time, and yet providing enough breathing space to pause and appreciate the story, the characters, the art direction, and to soak in the wonderful cinematography. And not forgetting an ensemble supporting cast to prop and pad the central relationship between Ben and Daisy, from parents to friends, to everyone else that pops in and out offering life's lessons through fated encounters.

The people that one meets define your life in a certain sense I believe. Through Fate we know each other, and little episodes spice your life up in ways that you cannot imagine, until you look back and wonder just how much had gone by, and how much one had experienced. The latest Facebook meme on 25 Random Things had made me recall some wonderful moments shared with people who have entered my life at various points, and to those who think their lives are not rich, I encourage them to dig deep, and find certain joy in recalling those moments. Here, we journey with Jula Ormond's Caroline as she reads through a diary and co-narrates the story of Benjamin Button, in little episodes that grab your attention throughout.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a delightfully fine film, with an engaging story about life in itself, and deserves every single one of its 13 nominations in this year's Academy Awards. It's up against some stiff competition, but I'm fairly confident it will hold its own and not return empty handed. Definitely highly recommended, and easily an early contender as best film of the year thus far.

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