The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Swept aside by the Slumdog Millionaire wave at the Oscars barring a few technical awards.

Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi | Published:February 28, 2009 5:29 pm


CAST: Brad Pitt,Cate Blanchett,Julia Ormond,Taraji P Henson
DIRECTOR: David Fincher

Swept aside by the Slumdog Millionaire wave at the Oscars barring a few technical awards,The Curious Case of Benjamin Button isn’t just about amazing make-up and special effects making Brad Pitt look geriatric. Rather,it is an exploration of that one idea that never leaves our side from the moment we comprehend it: every single day,or if you see it that way,every single moment,we are ageing.

Screenwriter Eric Roth adapts a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald and turns this fear around. Benjamin Button’s (Pitt) greatest apprehension is not that he will age,but how young he will become,how many loved ones he will outlive,whether there will ever be a day when his body and mind match,whether he and his love can find the perfect time and space to be together,whether he would ever be able to be a father to his child.

Eight,18 or 80,one is never perfect for very long; time passes. Life isn’t measured in minutes,underlines the film,but in moments. Still,sadly,for all it’s trying to tell,The Curious Case¿ really doesn’t sadden or enthrall. It is impressive yes,but not engrossing. And the long length may be just part of the problem.

Benjamin is born the day the World War I ends in 1918. His mother dies during childbirth,and his father,scared at the sight of the baby he is holding,leaves him at an old age home. Perhaps the thought that the baby is born in almost the last stages of old age doesn’t have anything to do with the father’s decision,but it turns out to be providential.

Benjamin is raised by a nurse (Henson),who turns out to be the kindest of mothers. Growing up among old people,he never considers himself different,though in his mind he is a child,his curiosity only constrained by his limitations. (This is a diversion from the book,where he is an old man in an old man’s body). Benjamin cannot walk for one,his bones withered away by arthritis,but keeps looking at the children playing on the street. Doctors don’t give him much time,but contrary to everybody’s expectations,including his own,he lives on.

In a nice touch,nobody really realises for a long time that he’s actually growing younger. It’s a long process and many years before anybody sees him as a young man.

While Benjamin is still shrivelled and wrinkled,he meets a young girl (about seven) called Daisy (Blanchett). For him,it’s instant love,but nobody sees it that way. Even inmates who know he is actually a child frown upon him meeting the young girl secretly at night.

Years pass,she grows older,he younger,when finally they are about the same age. But again,there is a hitch: she is a ballerina,the picture of youthful beauty and suppleness; he an awkward middle-aged man just discovering what it means to be young. It’s only after an injury makes her older,wiser and similarly physically bruised that the love between them takes shape. Now the positions are reversed,it’s her turn to watch the mirror for changes,new lines marking the passing of years.

The Curious Case¿ has been compared to Forrest Gump,particularly as Roth also wrote the screenplay for the latter. However,it’s unfair to draw that link. This is a far better film,with a far better concept at its centre.

That’s not necessarily what one can say of Pitt. His biggest moments are when he is virtually unrecognisable in those wrinkles,in the joy of his first few steps,his first few experiences. In his older-younger self,he reverts to being placid Pitt,rather too familiar in his blond hair,leather jackets and sunglasses. Blanchett,the other half of this love story,is second fiddle,a much too luminous one at that.

shalini.langer@expressindia.com

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