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Benjamin Button Movie Review

Jamie Abbott, Writer

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, released in 2008, is described by Rotten Tomatoes as “an epic fantasy tale with rich storytelling backed by fantastic performances,” a compliment with which I fully agree.  The intriguing plot, based off of a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, follows a man, Benjamin, born with a peculiar disease that causes him to age backwards.  We live alongside Benjamin as he finds love and life across the world he explores, and we contemplate the significance of the people we meet and the choices we make in our own lives.  If you are looking for a good movie to watch on a Sunday night, consider The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  

The movie opens in a hospital with a daughter reconnecting with her dying mother.  In my opinion, this type of opening scene is a little boring and, most of the times, confusing, which made me consider turning on something else, but the cinematography kept me from picking up the remote.   The emphasis on choice of color, camera angle, and stellar acting helps pick the movie up whenever the plot falters.

The mother in the hospital asks her daughter to read a journal (we later find out that it is Benjamin’s), and we are taken back in time to Armistice Day, the day of his peculiar birth.  “Benjamin’s story begins with a vignette about a clockmaker and his wife who lose their son in battle during World War I.  The craftsman’s final masterwork, a magnificent clock in New Orleans’ train station, runs backwards—a reflection of his desire to rewind time and relive happier days.”  The clock, meant to signify the lives already gone after the war, represents the time ticking down for Benjamin.

The scene changes to a dark, dingy room with a four poster bed.  We are shown how his mother died during childbirth, and his father, upon seeing his wrinkled, old-man face, left him on the porch of an old folks’ home.  There, he was raised by the owner, a woman named Queenie.  In my opinion, this abandonment turns out for the best; no other societal group could have accepted this oddity.  He fit in because, in body, he was one of them.

SPOILERS

Benjamin was still a child at heart, though.  The first time he met Daisy, the woman dying in the hospital, they were about ten.  They snuck downstairs during the night to tell secrets in a fort made from blankets until, aghast, Daisy’s mother found her daughter alone in the night with an “old man.”  However, I find it interesting that, because one was too old and the other was too young, neither wanted anything but conversation from this encounter.

Although life for Benjamin was not what it was for everyone else, he never turned bitter.   When he was old enough (young enough?), he offered his services to an old drunk who owned a fishing boat.  Later, when the need arose, he enlisted to serve in WWII from this same boat.  All the while, he kept up a correspondence with Daisy, now making her way to New York to pursue her love for ballet.  She was heartbroken when he tells her of his first love, an adulteress who leaves him without warning a few mornings before the war begins.  I found the reason behind this plot point a little confusing, as there was no physical attraction between them the first time they met, but it was included to show the initial connection between their souls, meaning that love has many different forms.

The tension of their relationship heightens throughout the course of their lives.  On her next visit, Daisy comes home to find a forty or so year old Benjamin.  After a romantic reconnection, she throws herself at him, but he refuses her advances, saying that the timing just isn’t right.  She is once again torn down, returning to New York very soon after.  Benjamin goes to visit her a few years later, bearing the news of Queenie’s death, but he sees a different Daisy, one  without room for him in her life.  She is a dancing on the grandest stages with an attractive, appropriately-aging man kissing her at drunken parties.

It isn’t until the accident that they are finally reconnected.  The director chose to describe in minute detail all of the events leading up to Daisy getting hit by a car, highlighting the theme showing the significance of every little thing that happens.  If even one second of the course of events had been altered, her leg would not have been broken in four places, leaving her completely unable to dance again.

Of course, Benjamin came to visit the instant he heard of her being in danger, but she turned him away.  She didn’t want him to see her broken and left without all of the things that put her, in her mind, so high above him.  Now he is all she has, and she feels guilty for the way she treated him.

She does eventually return home, surprising Benjamin, and, in short, the timing finally overlaps and they have a brief but powerful span of years together, both being the same age.  They have a child (yes, this is the woman reading the journal to her mother in the hospital room; what a shock finding out that her dad wasn’t her father this must have been).  They are happy.

But the clock keeps ticking backwards, and Benjamin keeps growing younger and younger.  Through an act of extreme maturity, he leaves his wife and beautiful daughter so Daisy doesn’t have to raise two children.  He goes away, traveling, knowing that these are the last few years he will be able to do so.  Time begins to take its toll, and he begins to forget, the memories being torn away, leaving his now-young mind hurt and confused.  He only sees his daughter once more, when she is a little older.  This is a bittersweet moment; Daisy has remarried, and although it hurts for him to see her with another man, we can tell he is finally content knowing she will be all right.

He does see Daisy again, this time as a kid, maybe eight or nine.  He has seventy years of life somewhere in him, but he can’t remember all of the days he has forgotten, and he is fussy and uneasy.  Through her love for him, although it pains her to see him not knowing anything about her and not caring about her any longer, she spends the years with him, loving him through tantrums and diapers, holding him in her arms as the last day brought the first stages of infancy, taking the life from him at last.

This movie, although full of many themes and things to think on, left this message with me; love is not just a hot summer night or a five-year connection when everything is new and exciting.  Love is caring for a child.  It is talking to the elderly because they really do have a lot to say.  It is showing up where you aren’t wanted but you know you are needed.  Love is not something restricted by time; it holds true for the clocks ticking backwards and for those ticking on.

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