The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Dir. David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson & Tilda Swinton.
The premise is a good one (courtesy of Mr Fitzgerald): a man (the eponymous Ben) ages backwards. The short story is an exercise in absurdist fiction, more akin to magical realism than to the meditation on life and death that Fincher and Roth offer in this epic- American film. But for all the beautiful cinematography, sumptuous art direction and dazzling visual effects, Ben Button proved irritatingly confounding to me: why were we being offered such a passive, do-nothing protagonist (not unlike Roth’s other famous protagonist, Forrest Gump), being told his story with the aid of the oldest framing device of them all (person at deathbed recollects and adorning his story with snippets of historical events and an array of semi-believable secondary characters?
But what really got to me was the lack of tension; the lack of conflict. Benjamin is such a distant, tabula rasa type character that his motivations seem perplexing and altogether a matter of circumstance than anything indicative of any character arc at all. He just goes hither and thither; becomes a sailor, a lover, a button empire heir out of no will of his own – only the Daisy episode towards the end seems to be more structured around any agon and this is quickly forsaken for what seems like a rushed and foolhardy ending. But for most of the film, Benjamin is just drifting through easily recognizable historical moments and fable-like snippets of ‘lessons on Life’ which might suggest a great backdrop for this (hi)story but felt empty and too didactic for my taste (that ‘backwards clock’ framing tale irritated me for its clear “I’m a metaphor!” eagerness).
And I’m not even going into the fact that all the female characters seem underwritten (and so male-centered!): why else borrow an age-old female triumvirate (matron, crone and maiden) and give us the least fleshed out characters of the film? Or the fact that Brad’s performance is so bland and uninspiring (he really doesn’t have much to do other than gape throughout) he doesn’t sell me as a compelling character not even as a constructive plot device. Or even the logical impossibility of the ‘Benjamin dies as a baby’ image: wouldn’t he have been an old man with a baby face if he was born as a baby with an old man face?
Flawless filmmaking, yes, but a good film needs to be more than an exercise in craft and have some heart, conflict; heck even an interesting lead would have been just fine. /rant over. C+