Friday, December 26, 2008

Movie Review: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

This is one of the best movies I have ever seen. It fundamentally deals with the ephemeral nature of life and leaves a permanent impression in our minds. There was not a dry eye in the house and when the movie ended the claps flowed from the audience spontaneously. I wouldn't be surprised if this swept the Oscars. David Fincher continues to amaze me. Ever since I saw se7en in Santham (1995 - it ran for a week there) I have been a fan and he has continued to out-do himself movie after movie. The story of Benjamin Button is adapted from a short story by Fitzgerald of the same name. The story itself while being extremely unique and curious is also presented in a fascinating manner. There are some movies that leave you with a rush of adrenalin and some with a lump in your throat. This movies does both. It seeks to inspire, put life into perspective and there were several moments where I struggled to fight back tears.

It is a curious story because the central character is born as a 95'ish old man. Benjamin lives the early part of his life as a doddering old man in wheel chairs with arthritis, deafness and teeth problems. While externally he seems to grow in reverse - internally mind wise he seems to be growing normally. He lives his life adventurously taking his chances and flowing the way of the wind a'la Forrest Gump (The movies share the same screen writer). He meets a 5 year old girl when he is 90 and later marries her when their ages intersect in their 40s. Then, as she grows old, he "grows" into a teenager, a toddler and an infant. As I said it is a fascinating story. While we are not told repeatedly that Benjamin is ageing downwards, it is sort of there as an undercurrent during all the events we see. It adds so many layers of complexity to the movie and makes every scene seem rich.

David Fincher's presentation techniques is always unique. Right from Alien 3 (which won the best cinematography Oscar) to Panic Room (where we see that single shot sequence progress from the 3rd floor down the house int the key hole, out of the hole and into the window) he has this unique style of visualising the movie. Here the contours of the movie keep changing with time. It starts with a highly sepia'ed touch in the beginning, reminiscent of video cameras in charlie Chaplin movies and then moves on to 1980s look and feel. Here he amazes everyone with his side stories too. In the Fight Club there were several sub-stories on soaps, car faults that kept amazing us. Here, we see a man's narration of how he is struck by lightning seven times. Given the title of this blog, I was so happy to see that sequence. Every time they showed that man there were peals of laughter. He says "I was standing there mindin' my own business and lightning struck me". And I could have cried. Then there was a sequence where Brad Pitts voice over describes a collision course of two objects as if guided by destiny. Wonderful.

Overall, this movie is an ode to the possibilities of life. It was a fantastic idea to have Benjamin start his life in an old age home where people come to die. Since at the beginning people don't know if Benjamin will grow old and die or just live along - everything seems temporary. It sets a context that tells us how valuable Benjamin thinks life is. What it means to do what you want, fail, start over again and do a new thing when you want it. It is the possibility that scares the hell out of people stuck in 9 to 5 jobs, wasting their lives by doing work they don't like. Just for the sake of survival. Another layer below that the movie talks about the transience of everything. There is a dialog Brad Pitt says in Troy (approx) "Gods are jealous of us because we are mortal. You will never be more beautiful than you look now. You will never experience this moment again. You will never be young again". This movie just defines that emotion. At another layer -this movie makes us think if there any difference at all between growing old and growing young. "We all end up in diapers" she says with a sardonic smile.

Apart from Fincher's artsy'ly paced story telling including his occasional indulgence, the movie greatly benefits from Brad Pitt's performance and the person who wrote the dialogs. From Brad Pitt's nervous excitement as a 90 year old kid to his calm demeanour as a teenager is all part of a splendid performance. I don't think he has done a better role. The dialog writer sometimes deals only in punchlines but nevertheless does a great job of making us notice the power of words. I am going to be rooting for this movie at the Oscars.
P.S: Interesting. I am tempted to fund the successful defense of this man during trial.


rads said...

Fascinating storyline :)
Wonderful review. I heard one such on the radio and was surprised Ebert gave it a lower rating.

Totally commiserate with the guy who got ticked off with the talking kids. Boy, how I hate those whispers. I mean, I do whisper occ, but non-stop talking, there are times when I had to be restrained too.

Hawkeye said...


yeah. i saw that. i've lost whatever little respect i've had for ebert after that review. i know that he traditionally has hated fincher challenging ebert's values and has consistently rated fincher poorly.

but the reasoning given in this particular review is stupid tosay the least. ebert is behaving likt a child.

Arun Sundar said...

How bout Brad's makeup? And how other characters get old along the movie. Pretty impressive!

Barath said...

Nice review Hawkeye. The review was so good that I did only two things between reading it and driving to the theater to watch the movie. 1.Check show timing 2.Eat dinner.

It was top-class.

Hours after watching the movie I am still thinking about the movie (a rare thing for me to do) trying to find scenes that could have been avoided to make the movie shorter. Seems like they all fit the story. The screenplay was awesome, reminded Forrest Gump in more than one occasion though.

If this were to be re-made in Tamil, who is a good choice to act / direct this movie?

Anonymous said...

thanks for the lead. 2 and a half hours well spent.