“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a pro-death movie. Let me explain. We’re all terminal. We’re all dying. And “CCBB” says that’s OK. Death isn’t glorified or dressed up pretty (because, as one of the Fathers of the Church said, “death is a cosmic obscenity.”) Death just is what it is, a member of the human family. Not banished, not locked up, not thrown in the river. Death has its place at the table of life and is mentioned, talked of, thought of, expected, accepted. “CCBB” is also a pro-life fairytale. The characters are in each other’s keep. They take care of each other whether they’re white or black, young or old, healthy or deformed. Irregular babies and messy old people all belong and are loved by someone.
This long (165 minutes!), ambitious, elaborate, seamless adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story was eyed by filmmakers for years, however it is only now that the technology has developed enough to be able to do it justice. The story’s premise is that a baby boy (Benjamin Button, played by Brad Pitt) is born as an old man who grows younger and younger. Software developers were able to use the real Brad Pitt for each life-stage (and the real Cate Blanchett who plays Daisy, Benjamin’s love-interest, who also ages, but normally). If you think Brad and Cate are acting rather placidly, my guess is they were told to do so in order that their faces could be digitally manipulated. Director David Fincher’s only other notable films were “Se7en,” “Fight Club” and “Panic Room,” and he comes from an impressive background of music videos. “CCBB” is a major leap forward for him. Screenwriter Eric Roth is more seasoned: “Forrest Gump,” “Horse Whisperer,” “The Insider,” “Munich.” This movie could well have been a huge mess, but it's not. It's gorgeous, almost in a genre all its own. Evidently the filmmakers took the crumbs of Fitzgerald's short story and worked marvels with it, even inventing the Daisy character.
We are beaten over the head repeatedly with some obvious, trite themes (that perhaps we do need to hear over and over): “Be yourself! Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do or be!” “You can always change! It’s never too late!” But the real themes of “CCBB” are far more subtle and profound. “Time is precious. Time is all we have. Life is made up of fleeting moments. Nothing lasts forever but love. Love knows no age, time, place. Love is not about externals. Love simply loves.” “You never know what’s coming for you (but you go out and meet it any way).” Benjamin’s mom—like many moms of disabled kids—teaches him to accept himself, be at peace and enjoy life. “CCBB” is an anti-self-pity film.
God is a character! The good folks in “CCBB” believe in Him and pray to Him and thank Him. There is deep gratefulness for the honor of being alive no matter the hardships. Or, as the alien-turned-Chinese-elder in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” says: “Even though human life is hard, I feel privileged to have lived it.”
“CCBB” is an antidote for our Botox culture of youth and earthly immortality. Even the lovely Julia Ormond is shown close-up in all her middle-aged splendor.
“CCBB” is definitely a movie about forgiveness, moving on, letting go. The characters overlook, or rather get over the injuries and insults of both enemy and friend, and go on living.
“CCBB” is about the arts. Piano, opera, ballet, writing a diary, being the artist you are inside (even if that’s a tattoo artist).
Of course, there is a real disease where babies age super-rapidly and only live a few years (and look like they’re 80 when they’re 5). I wonder what the parents of these children think of this movie?
There should be more movies about old people. As Benjamin says of his old folks home: “It was a great place to grow up in.” Old people have histories, secrets, points of view. They know what’s important now. (Check out the movie: “Mrs. Brown.”)
Even in this world of new media, people will still always gather for a story. We’re desperately looking for help and wisdom and understanding and meaning and transcendence and something bigger than ourselves and something worth living for. The mostly young adults in my free screening were transfixed by “CCBB.” And what does it purport that we still desire to bring these “old” classics to the modern screen? And as much as I love technology, it was such a relief to watch people (in pre-tech-saturation eras) simply sitting at a table across from each other, talking, giving each other their undivided attention.
A sparkling, dreamy, but not overly-sentimental soundtrack ties every flashback, change of locale, change of decade, and the whole bouquet of characters together. It’s said it takes an army to make a film. Stay for the credits and you’ll meet the myriad soldiers of human genius and creativity. Just when you think Hollywood “can’t top this,” they can.
Although PG-13, what is portrayed is quite mature, and there is much, much shall we say, “romancing,” including prostitution and affairs. And it’s never clear if Daisy ever married Benjamin. I would’ve given this an R rating.
BIG FAT CAVEAT: Call me Sr. Aloysius, but there's a distinct possibility that something very subversive is also going on here. As mentioned in my "Twilight" review, pretty much the only thing today that keeps lovers apart (by law) is age. Is F. Scott Fitzgerald (or the filmmakers) trying to tell us--quite literally--that romantic love knows no age? The old man Benjamin (who is really a young boy inside) falls in love with the young girl, Daisy. (Lolita?) The older woman, Daisy, goes to the teenage Benjamin and they make love. (Lolito?) So, is the point that "age is just a number?" Who's to say how old we are/feel inside? What is maturity anyway? Is a statement being made about age of consent laws? Hmmmmmm..... Notwithstanding this "problem," the movie is quite accurate in its pro-personhood stance. We are who we are no matter our age. We remain who we are, even if impaired, even if our memory fails, etc. Some false philosophies of the human person equate us with our brain function, especially memory, to the point that if we can't remember who we are, we are "not." Silly! That's what friends and family are for! "CCBB" truly stresses human connection, human community, or even better, true human communion. Or, as "Horton Hears a Who" says: "A person's a person no matter how small," or old or sick, etc.
FURTHER RANDOM THOUGHTS:
Vying for “Most Hilarious Cinematic Moments” are the scenes of the elderly gent who keeps asking: “Did I ever tell you I was struck by lightning seven times?” When we least expect him, there he is, and by the end of the movie, we get to see all seven times, filmed in speeded-up “Keystone Cops” black and white. You’ll laugh your spleen green.
“CCBB” begins with an ancient, barely audible Daisy on her deathbed. Most realistic deathbed scene ever.
In an interview with "Rolling Stone," Brad Pitt says that the movie profoundly changed him, and made him think of his own death and how little time we have here. He said he doesn't get into as many arguments with "Angie," any more, and when he does, he lets it blow off, because it's just not worth it--"we'll only be together for a short while on earth, anyway--it's not worth it." Not bad, when a movie changes the actors!
The lagging moments were hardly noticeable.
I don’t know if this was intended, but there was an extremely poignant image of the grown-up Benjamin carrying his dying, elderly Dad on his back to the edge of Lake Ponchartrain for him to enjoy the sunrise. All I could think of was the scene of his Dad with the newborn “monster” Benjamin at the edge of the river, ready to throw Benjamin in.
The best actor, hands down, is Taraji P. Henson, Benjamin’s adoptive Mom, Queenie. She kind of outshines the whole cast, and that’s saying something.
Brother Ray Charles: “You can’t fight God and you can’t fight death.”
December 29: This movie is a "delayed reaction haunting movie." When you least expect it, it keeps creeping back into your consciousness, thus creating a review as sprawling as the flick itself.
Cardinal George said something “curious” recently: “Miracles are only miracles in a fallen world.” GOD SHIFTED TIME: Mary was preserved free from original sin IN VIEW of the Redemption that hadn’t happened yet. SPOILER ALERT: As elderly Daisy holds baby Benjamin, I saw a kind of Madonna and Child: Mary holding a Person who had pre-existed. If aging is the result of original sin, Mary didn’t age (the decrepitude part). I think I finally get the Assumption. That’s what was planned for Adam and Eve, not death. And Mary was the only one to actually experience it. (Some “low Mariologists” hold that Mary did die like Jesus. After all, she’s not greater than Jesus, wouldn’t she/shouldn’t she go through what he went through, what we all go through? I think not. No one will ever die quite like Jesus did (in order to kill death). If Jesus preserved his Mother from original sin, wouldn’t she automatically be preserved also from sin’s ultimate fruition, death? Death holds no sway where there is no sin. Mary is totally human, but special and unique, “the highest honor of our race.” Virgin and Mother. Immaculate. She not only conceived miraculously, she also gave birth miraculously. As the Liturgy says in the Christmas Season: The Virgin Mary gave birth "without loss of her virginity." (See also the book: “The Mystery of Mary” by Paul Haffner.) She is now what we will one day be.