The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- Eddie Harrison
- 5 February 2009
What would it be like to live in reverse? Born as an old man only to die as an infant, the Benjamin Button character created by F Scott Fitzgerald in his 1922 short-story gets the full ‘prestige picture’ treatment in David Fincher’s lavish romantic fantasy.
The opening flourish, in which the Warner Brothers and Paramount studio logos assemble themselves from a shower of computer-generated buttons, sets the tone for an extravagant, technically brilliant but also rather heartless evocation of Button’s backwards life. Unceremoniously dumped by his father Thomas (Jason Flemyng), Button (Brad Pitt) is adopted by a poor Southern family who raise him as a child despite his aged appearance. Growing into middle age while experiencing the pains of puberty, Button leaves home for some WWII adventures including a sexual education with Brit Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), only to rekindle his romance with childhood sweetheart Daisy (Cate Blanchett).
Button’s thoughtful consideration of the impermanence of love allows Fincher to create a range of dazzling set-pieces, including a poignant foreword about a stopped railway-station clock which pays mournful tribute to the dead of WWI, a funny running gag about an old man being hit by lightning and an intricately worked sequence describing the many fateful collisions that conspire to put Daisy’s ballet career on hold. But a framing story featuring Daisy’s daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) fails to locate the heart of the story, and Benjamin Button’s conclusion is inevitably something of a bummer; only a director as contrary as Fincher could create a $200 million extravaganza which winds up waterlogged in mortality.
Adding in extraneous scenes featuring a young boy casting off his crutches, or leaving home to join a tug-boat crew, writer Eric Roth attempts to inject a little warm treacle from his own Forrest Gump style template, but the regular repetition of the phrase ‘You never know what’s coming for you’ annoyingly reduces the moral of Fitzgerald’s unsentimental fable to a pat ‘life is a box of chocolates’ homily.
Yet despite such lapses, Benjamin Button is still highly rewarding fare for romantics of all ages; like Fitzgerald’s most famous character, The Great Gatsby, it’s a salutary tale of a man who would turn back time for love, and fails, reflecting Fitzgerald’s own views of the impermanence of love in vibrant flashes of Fincher’s cinematic imagination.
General release from Fri 6 Feb.