Idol Chatter

poster-curiouscasebenbutton.jpg“Life is defined by moments, even the ones we choose to miss.” – Benjamin Button

While the premise of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is about a baby who is born old and who grows younger through the years, the true heart of the movie is not so much about a peculiar man-child but about the moments, decisions, and people experienced by Benjamin Button that define and mold his character.

Inspired by a short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald (a novel titled “The Confessions of Max Tivoli” was also inspired by Fitzgerald’s story), the story starts in the modern day as an older daughter (Julia Ormond) takes care of her aging, dying mother, named Daisy, in the hospital. As a hurricane approaches the city, Daisy asks her daughter to read from a diary kept by a man named Benjamin Button.

Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born on the night World War I ends. As his mother dies in child birth, his horrified father impulsively takes the wrinkled and shriveled baby and leaves it on the steps of a house that turns out to be a retirement home run by an African-American staff that includes Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) and her lover, Tizzy (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali). When Queenie sees the baby, she feels compassion, believing him to be a child of God despite his ugliness. She names him Benjamin.

As Benjamin ages backwards, he looks out at the world with blue eyes in wonder and curiosity. He makes friends with people of all ages and races and learns lessons from each of them. A man from Africa teaches him how to be free and self-sufficient. A retirement home resident teaches him how to accept death because it is only in death that we learn who matter to us the most. A tugboat captain teaches him how to take responsibility…and to have his first sexual encounter. A “plain as paper” wife (Tilda Swinton) of a spy teaches him the importance of continuing life’s goals.

Even Benjamin’s father, who eventually reappears, teaches his son how to recognize true family. He also reveals Benjamin’s true roots and makes him the heir of the family’s button company (hence his last name). Most importantly, the one person who really changes Benjamin’s life besides Queenie is Daisy, a red-headed young girl (Elle Fanning) who he meets early in life and who recognizes something special about him. As Daisy grows up (Cate Blanchett), time and age continues to keep them apart until a few golden years when they know nothing but deep love and commitment.

Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Taraji P. Henson are engaging and mesmerizing actors who anchor the film; they are sincere and perfectly cast. Even though the movie is serious, there are some surprisingly comical moments (particularly one running joke about a retiree who has been struck by lightning seven times) and the details are fine and mesmerizing. A lot of attention has been spent getting the make-up, the costumes, and the scenery as precise as it can be with each different era Benjamin encounters, and this precision binds the movie together. The only let-down is the modern day story with the aging Daisy and her daughter; their story serves more as neat book ends to the film, and the interactions often get lost in the more fascinating story of Benjamin Button.

At 167 minutes, the movie is certainly long (and, at times, it can feel long), but the epic life and journey of Benjamin Button is definitely worth watching. Through his life, we learn what it means to take chances and not regret decisions, to be bold and adventurous, to be loyal and committed. For a man with a complicated life, Benjamin Button lives simply because he understands a certain lesson early in life that takes people a lifetime to understand: it is never too late to start over, to be free, and to live a full life you can be proud of–with the people you love.

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