The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This movie had every indication of being genetically engineered to please me. I am very into the tragical-romance-with-fantasy-elements, from Forrest Gump to Big Fish and even Return of the King. Hell, even Edward Scissorhands and The Last Unicorn and Titanic. Gimme one-a them happy/unhappy endings that’ll have me still crying when the lights come up.

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You got your Cate in my Tilda! You got your Tilda in my Cate!

Benjamin Button did not please me. At the 90-minute mark, I got super ants in my pants, and felt anxious for the two people I had dragged to see it, and wanted to duck out and see something else. This movie has gotten pretty good reviews (something like 67% on Rotten Tomatoes; and I’m willing to admit that I can hurt my experience of a good movie with high expectations (like Wall-E, which I liked plenty the second time.)

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Spoiler alert!

On a technical level, Benjamin Button is beyond reproach. The dialogue is great, the shots are beautiful, and the acting is excellent. As I see it, it fails because it violates the critical aspects of the fantatragiromance genre:

  • The hero’s love must never waver. This is ostensibly the POINT of a fantatragiromance — that no matter what preposterous events the hero endures, his love is the great constant. (I say “his” only because I cannot think of an example where the hero is a “her”). The object of his love may stray and spurn him, but this only makes his love the more tragiromantic.

    Sexifically speaking, it is acceptable if the hero is seduced by an aggressive woman, but better if he rejects her advances (a la Edward Scissorhands; and best if rejecting her leads to his downfall (OMG BEST SCREENPLAY EVER).

    But the hero must NEVER fall in love with someone else. Jenny can sleep around in the 70s, but Forrest cannot. Rose, Kim, and even Daisy can go on to marry and have kids with someone else, but Jack, Edward and Benjamin Button CANNOT. Because then what is the point? That stuff happens, and them some other stuff happens? WEAK.

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    Not tonight, Daisy. I have a brothel to go to.

  • The hero should have a virtue. Just one would be nice, and fidelity often is sufficient. How about taking care of Mom? A strong work ethic? A snappy sense of humor? Failing likable, can we do relatable? Benjamin and Daisy are largely ciphers, not doing much of anything human until the last 30 minutes of the movie.
  • There should be a happy/unhappy ending. Kim imagines Edward still making snow. The son in Big Fish spins his father a final, redeeming yarn. Rose and Jack reunite on the stairs. Forrest has a son.

    Benjamin Button ends with a destroyed clock, a dead woman, a dead baby, and Hurricane Katrina.

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    Good times!

There were great things about this movie, like the WWII battle sequence, but I will skip them and make these observations instead:

  • Much of this movie is the passage of time. Not just about the passage of time, but depicting it. Benjamin tells us not much happened during his seafaring years, and WE ARE SHOWN the not much happening. If I want to see not much happening, I will try to take the I-10 to work.
  • There are multiple fantastic elements which don’t tie together or pay off. Forrest had a feather, which was a metaphor for his anywhere-the-wind-blows life. This movie has
    • A clock that runs backwards, and the whole backstory of the man who made it because he wished he could turn back time. This would be cool if the movie were about trying to undo the past, or the unique insight of a person who grew up around old people. But this movie isn’t about any of those things.
    • A hummingbird or two. This would be cool if the movie were about our lives must be frantic and ever-changing if they are to be life at all, or if the hummingbird were a symbol of Benjamin’s love for Daisy, flying against all odds. But this movie isn’t about any of those things.
    • Hurricane Katrina. This would be cool if the movie were about how you can’t control anything, no matter how you try, or if there were a scene where Daisy’s daughter wants to evacuate, but Daisy asks to be left to die because her time has come and she accepts it. But no. And no.

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      Hi! I’m here to be the best thing in your movie!

  • This movie is three hours long, and there is no conflict until about 30 minutes ’til the end — which is that Benjamin refuses to be involved in his daughter’s life. One, this conflict makes Benjamin kind of suck. There’s no montage of him discreetly showing up at events, getting younger and younger; sending money; receiving pictures from Daisy. It’s just kthxbye.

    Two, it took two-and-a-half hours to get here, and those two-and-a-half hours weren’t about Benjamin rejecting the twists in his life. In fact, the movie up to this point was quite deliberately about ACCEPTING what is given to you, in life and in death. So, the theme that was shakily built for TWO-AND-A-HALF HOURS is torn down, discarded, and replaced with a sucky one.

  • Benjamin’s great, rich relationship with his adoptive mother is junked and replaced with a lame, shallow relationship with his biological father. There’s a really beautiful scene where Benjamin takes his biodaddy to a pier to watch a sunrise and accept death, and it is of absolutely no emotional consequence because we don’t give a crap about biodaddy. There’s a really beautiful sequence where Benjamin takes care of his mother in her final years the same way she did in his first, except wait that’s not actually in this movie because he’s off having a lot of sex when his mom dies. GOD I AM SO MAD AT THIS MOVIE.
  • Daisy’s daughter tells her mother, “You never told me about your dancing!” Yet into her old age Daisy RUNS A DANCE STUDIO. Perhaps Daisy’s daughter IS AN IDIOT.

Now I am all mad again. Don’t get me wrong — I still cried at the end — but only because for the last thirty minutes Cate Blanchett actually had a character to portray. I think a prologue-and-Daisy-scenes-only version of this movie would actually be fantastic.

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Do you think I look like Tori Amos when I do this? I think I look like Tori Amos when I do this.

A-a-a-and spent.

Tory

Draws. Sweats. Eats too much sugar-free candy.

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6 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    I think the scene about bio-daddy is basically Benjamin realising that there is no point in holding on to his anger. He realises that and that the man is going to die.
    I think that most of the time in life we hold on so tight to things out of fear and this movie really is about letting go.

  2. Susan says:

    hmmm.
    the Hummingbird symbol represents letting go.
    We can’t hold on to things, they change… we die… let go.
    Its not a symbol of frantic love or anything like that.
    Nothing stays the same. Everything passes. Let go.
    Very simple, yet very hard for us humans.

  3. Which Southern accent was that, Coffee?

  4. Josie says:

    Tory, Tory, Tory. You pretty much said everything I was thinking when I saw it (and somethings that I hadn’t noticed). I’m just glad that you have done this review. I thought it was just us who didn’t get it.

    Yonni and I saw it with our 14 year old nephew, and while he’s not big into movies like you are, he still had some of the same basic observations. The clock? Katrina? Why? I didn’t really think about the hummingbirds until reading this post, but they were useless, weren’t they?

    As much as I like Cate, her accent drove me batty. Both her and Brad were nice to look–not at the same times in the movie, of course–but that doesn’t make up for all the film’s shortcomings.

  5. coffee says:

    Cate Blanchett with a southern accent FTW; but Benjamin Button kept dragging on, always pausing dramatically on Brad Pitt’s face, a lot like Meet Joe Black, FTL

  6. Glenn says:

    Yeah….I mean that’s kinda how I felt but maybe it just needs a second viewiing ya know? Like Wall-E perhaps?

    I have worries about UP by the way. I hope it’s not another “Cars”

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