October 25, 2011

Some Things Last

I don't quite remember why I didn't see this movie in the cinemas when it first came out. Maybe I was saturated will all the Brangelina focus of the media or just thought that the story about aging backwards was just plain hokey. Nevertheless, this film came up on my Netflix queue (a few weeks ago) and I have to say that I was caught off guard on how thoroughly I enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it so much I now have the 2 disc Criterion edition.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a very poetic story about the life of a man who grows younger as he ages and the people who have made a mark in him. A tale of love, joy as well as aging, death and the passing of time.

It's a combination of The English Patient, Forest Gump and a little bit of Sliding Doors. The film opens with Daisy (Cate Blanchett - I didn't recognize her at first because of her aged make-up) on her death bed in a hospital in New Orleans at the onset of Katrina. She asks her daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond) to read a diary belonging to a Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt). It tells of his story of being born as an infant in his 80's and his mom dying at childbirth. His father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), not being able to accept his child, leaves him on the steps of an old folks home. He is found by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), one of the caregivers in the home. She raises him as her own and Benjamin begins to blend in with the people he lives with. He meets Mrs. Palmer who teaches him to play the piano and a pygmy named Ngunda Oti who opens up his world and encourages him to explore the world outside the home.

Through the course of his years there, he also meets Daisy who is a frequent visitor of her grandmother. Daisy and Benjamin soon develop a deep friendship and love that goes beyond appearances. And what follows is an adventure with Benjamin getting younger while Daisy ages.

Benjamin, realizing there is more to the world, leaves New Orleans (and his friend Daisy). He works as a crewman for Capt. Mike (Jared Harris) on a tug boat and travels the world. In Russia, he meets Elizabeth Abbot (Tilda Swinton), a wife of a British attache and develops a short relationship with her. It's here he first falls in love. While abroad he continues to write to Daisy about his adventures. In the meantime, we see Daisy moving to New York to attend the School of the American Ballet. Benjamin eventually comes home to New Orleans and his love for Daisy is re-kindled after she comes home to visit. They have always cared for each other but timing has not always been on their side. Their love is played out until they meet in the middle when they're both in their 40's.

For all the Hollywood and paparazzi coverage he gets, Brad Pitt is a good actor and manages to transform himself into Benjamin Button. He is nuanced in his performance and you forget that it's him. I do have to say that he is beautiful (yes, not handsome but beautiful) in this film. As Daisy, Cate Blanchett is radiant. But she also manages to capture the narcissism and self involvement of a 22 year old Daisy and at the same time, the grace, compassion and weariness of Daisy's 80 year old self. She gives great insight to the character as the movie unfolds. Equally as impressive is her ability to perform the dance scenes. While not all of them, she did do most of them (read about that here). This woman's talent never ceases to amaze me! I also have to mention too, that Teraji P. Henson is heartbreaking here as a woman who opens up her heart to Benjamin. It's very touching.

The film is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and adapted by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) but I really think that it was David Fincher (director) that made this movie a compelling story. He manages to tell Benjamin's story effectively by presenting events in his life just long enough to touch the movie-goer then he quickly moves on. By doing this he doesn't linger in these scenes and thus avoids melodrama. Having viewed the "making of" footage, I am very aware of the intricate special effects and extensive make-up sessions used in the film but somehow Mr. Fincher managed to make them fuse seamlessly with the story that they never really jump out. I loved how natural they aged Taraji P. Henson, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and that these actors were brave enough to go through it. The choice to set the movie in New Orleans, a city with mysticism, combined with the beautiful music by Alexander Desplat provide a perfect backdrop and makes the fable so plausible.

I think this film will have a different meaning to people viewing it depending on your age and life experiences. I was just talking about it to my friend Dawn, who's a mother, and to her, the film was about acceptance and a mother's love. It was very different from my take. While I've always seen it as a passing of time and the people who give our life meaning, I'm sure if I view it again in 5 years, I would take a different message from it. It's very unique.

Lastly, I've always thought that the film has one of the best endings in a movie (no, it won't ruin it for those who haven't seen the film). A montage of the different people that touched his life while you hear Benjamin fondly talking about them. I tear up every time.


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