ATTENTION: MINOR SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Benjamin Button tells the story of a man born with the body of someone 80 years old, but then ages backwards. I appreciated this movie for its technical achievements and the unique concept, but not much more. David Fincher’s direction certainly took ingenuity and vision, but much of it was flawed. The pacing was excruciatingly slow and a healthy proportion of the theater was getting restless in their seats as the movie progressed along its 80 year journey. Secondly, I take issues with the logistics of Benjamin’s aging. I realize that this movie is built on fantasy, but even fantasy should have some rules. For example, Benjamin is born the size of a normal baby looking like an old man and continues to grow in size (height and weight) throughout his life. Thus, it stands to reason that when he dies, he should be the size of an old man with the face and skin tone of a baby. He is born with calcified valves and arthritic joints, physiological findings in the elderly. He learns to walk by throwing off his crutches. Thus, it stands to reason that as he grows younger, his body should get physiologically younger. Yet, when he dies, he shows signs of dementia, something that should not be seen in someone so young. Eric Roth, the screenwriter, should have set the parameters of Benjamin’s life before he began writing the screenplay.
The major comparison that is made between this film is that it follows the same trajectory as Forrest Gump. This is partially true in that both movies tell life stories where the protagonist undergoes defining events and meets unique people. Gump, however, moved faster as it covered more events and served as a whirlwind journey through history. Benjamin Button had fewer events and fewer people that the protagonist met, but Fincher took his time with each episode of Benjamin’s life. Benjamin Button was certainly more of a character drama than Forrest Gump, but the only problem is that very few people have the patience to watch a 2.5 hour character drama. One episode that showed a particularly captivating character development was the one involving Tilda Swinton as a married woman with whom Benjamin had an affair. Swinton herself is such an enigma and a shapeshifter that any role she takes becomes an engaging performance.
The acting in general is phenomenal, particularly Brad Pitt as Benjamin. The role is not showy, yet Pitt gives Benjamin a personality just by smiling and body positioning. Oftentimes, the roles that win Oscars are the ones that get to deliver memorable lines or accents or a physical transformation that is the opposite of what the actor normally is. Recent performances that fit these criteria include Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich’s sassy, push-up bra wearing zingers), Philip Seymour Hoffman (losing weight and keeping a high pitched accent as Truman Capote), Nicole Kidman (prosthetic nose) and Charlize Theron (transformed into Aileen Wournos, yet still the prettiest ugly girl I have ever seen). Brad Pitt had CGI and make-up on his side, but at all points throughout the movie, he was still Brad Pitt, just at different time points. The strength in Pitt’s acting was nothing physical, but entirely emotional and the ambience he brought to each scene which is much harder than simply delivering a line.
The devil must be a photographer, because Cate Blanchett sold her soul to him ages ago. The camera undeniably loves her and her dancing scenes are lovely. The vibrancy she shows in her 20s contrasts starkly with her portrayal of a dying woman. These two portrayals plus the fact that she was a Russian spy earlier in the year proves Blanchett can do anything. Taraji P. Henson also gives an adorable performance as Benjamin’s mother although it did seem rather one-note after the first hour.
From a philosophical standpoint, the movie is beautiful as it emphasizes how paralell our childhoods are with old age. The best line in the entire movie was delivered by Blanchett: “Benjamin, in the end, we all end up in diapers.” The film also emphasizes how universal the aging process is, whether it is forward or backward. In short, Benjamin Button was a fine character essay that could benefit from some better editing and some more though put into its screenplay.