Sunday, 8 November 2009


“Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children.” - George Bernard Shaw

If you frequent the Gutenberg site you will know that there are a huge number of e-books to be downloaded for free. One of these is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tales of the Jazz Age”. In this collection of stories you will find the very interesting “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. This short story was first published in Colliers Magazine during 1921 and was subsequently anthologised in the book, which you have downloaded from Gutenberg already, haven’t you? The story is an interesting proposition, where a baby is born already very aged (“three score years and ten”) and then gradually becomes younger as he grows “older”. The story is well worth reading as it has originality and is well written.

Now, flash-forward to the film we saw at the weekend. It is the film adaptation of this short story made in 2008, directed by David Fincher and has the same title as the short story: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. That’s just about where the similarity ends. Well, there is a baby that is born old and grows younger as he ages, but the screenplay has become infinitely richer and extended, with many subplots and greater depth than the short story (sorry, F. Scott!). Eric Roth and Robin Swicord have done an extremely good job of adapting the short story into a powerful, engaging and moving screenplay. It works well on many levels and one is not only fascinated by the quirkiness of the plot, but at the same time one is made to think and ponder about the personal, social and moral implications of the story. I believe it is best if one reads the story first and then watches the film. The two work at different levels, but I believe it is one of those exceptional circumstances where the film works much better than the short story.

The baby is born aged, but the mother dies at childbirth. The distraught father, button manufacturer Mr Button, takes the monstrous child and abandons it at the steps of an old people’s home. A kindly black carer adopts the child and brings it up as her own. The relationship between mother and adopted son is poignant and touching and raises some important issues about race (nothing heavy-handed, it is a very subtle, very well-written sub-plot). As Benjamin grows, he is surrounded by elderly people so he doesn’t find his appearance or surroundings unusual (sub-plot number two). However, as he grows and as he encounters some younger individuals he begins to become aware of his curious circumstances and his personal drama begins. I won’t spoil it for the readers here who haven’t seen it, but I am telling you right now to try and see it, it’s well worth the effort of finding it and watching it.

Brad Pitt is very good in the title role and the make-up artists who worked on his face, headed by Greg Cannom, deserved very much the Oscar they got. The film also got two other Oscars, one in Art Direction and the other in Visual Effects, both also well-deserved. The feeling of time past that is evoked is marvellous, helped by the excellent music score by Alexandre Desplat. The film also won the Saturn Award of the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (USA), as well as several other awards and a multiplicity of nominations. Cate Blanchett is a worthy leading lady and Tilda Swanson makes a dashing appearance as a supporting guest star. Taraji P. Henson who plays Benjamin’s foster mother gives a fantastic performance and the remaining cast is excellent, every role having been carefully thought out and beautifully cast.

Fincher directs the film with aplomb and every scene is beautifully set and unfolds without effort. It is very much a director’s achievement that makes this very long film (166 minutes) so enjoyable and one in which the viewer loses the sense of time (pun intended!). It is a magical confection of fantasy and reality, truth and falsehood, humour and pathos. The film looks at death and old age, but it celebrates life and every wonderful moment of our life, which we should enjoy whatever our age is. Benjamin’s life played in reverse is a parody of the normal life that we all live from youth to old age. However, it is through Benjamin’s curious predicament that we come to examine our own life and what it means to live it fully. We are immersed in the glory of love and how it can transcend time, but at the same moment we have to acknowledge that some things are not meant to be and we have to be our age and to associate with our peers in terms of relationships.

I found the film interesting, engaging, funny, sad, poignant, confronting and one that made me think. I think that is quite rare in a “mainstream” Hollywood production and hence my accolades for this particular movie. If you haven’t seen it, make sure that you do, if you have seen it, I would appreciate your comments.

Enjoy your week!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I liked this movie also, Nicholas, but I think it needed a bit more tight editing and cutting down a little. The constant flash forward to the hospital I found a little to disruptive. Nevertheless, a very good movie to watch.