Movie Of the Week: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008)

David Fincher directs Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton in this fantasy romance where a man ages backwards, geriatric to baby, over the 20th century.

I was dating a girl when The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button came out. And we broke up on the car ride home. The problem wasn’t she hated it and I loved it. The problem was neither of us felt comfortable enough to vocally disagree about the movie. And who can live like that?

This felt like a definite outlier in Fincher’s filmography on release after 16 years of mind fuck thrillers and procedural horrors. It isn’t exactly a soft piece of cinema. The clicking clock of death and the cruel vagaries of fate and time prey on these people like a serial killer or a xenomorph. In fact the old age effect work in the first act often resembles the creepier earlier stages of Alien3’s monster and flesh. But this is, first and foremost, a romance film told in a flow of interlinked short stories. It doesn’t have a traditional structure, more chapters. Each one is slightly imperfect. Button’s doddery old faux-Dickensian childhood is most memorable but has the ropiest FX work. There’s some unsettling uncanny valley moments. A cold romance between Pitt and Swinton in Fifties’ USSR feels completely self contained. It is hard to fully tally the attraction between Blanchett’s Daisy and Pitt’s Benjamin. The script and acting successfully sidesteps the inevitable ickiness yuckiness of a pensioner and a pre-pubescent girl becoming soul mates. Yes… I understand the fairytale aspect of the vibes… Brad Pitt being the most attractive man on Earth helps. It is like watching The Ugly Duckling in a romcom knowing exactly how the swan reveal will eventually play out.

Is there a lot of negativity in the above paragraph? I think Benjamin Button is a project where the inherent flaws make it fascinating. Almost as if Fincher and Pitt signed up at the height of their powers knowing this could be a suicide note. Difficult to realise. Difficult to market. Difficult to dodge the snark of people who live to hate cinema in general. It is admirable that such a bad bet is realised so sumptuously. There’s no resting on laurels here. They wanted to make a Forrest Gump (Eric Roth is a shared screenwriter) without the draw of nostalgia. They wanted to tip toe through history while avoiding all landmark events. This is the world turning, seen at a distance, never better captured than in the Amelie-esque set piece where fate conspires to take Daisy’s dreams away from her. And then a little later, a moment of maturity, rarely achieved in the Hollywood blockbuster – Daisy proclaims she wouldn’t have been a dancer for much longer anyway, her achievement were brief but spectacular. This movie is epic, spectacular but also intimate and pragmatic. It really is a precious wonder from another age of mainstream storytelling.


Perfect Double Bill: Interview With The Vampire (1994)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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