The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Directed by David Fincher (Paramount Pictures, 2008)
David Fincher’s movie version of a farcical short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the backwards tale of a man born old who spends his life growing young, ultimately dying as an infant.
Fincher has told the story as a poignant romance, having the “younging” Benjamin (Brad Pitt) fall in love with the normally aging Daisy (Cate Blanchett) and allowing these time-crossed lovers only a few years in which to catch each other as they pass on their separate races to the cradle and grave. The sweet pathos of this tale captures the fragility of young love and gives us a long tearful look at the years and decades that follow (and here precede) romance’s first blossom. Fincher’s tale reminds us how short the flame of youth burns, and how long and warm the embers last.
But Fincher and his cast have pulled the emotional punch this tale might have delivered by having only Button’s body grow young while his mind grows up and old. A story of a man flying against time’s arrow should be filled with memories and regrets, or with the possibility of changing a past that has not yet happened. Button should be a man who knows where he and others are going, or at least a man who is constantly forgetting where he has been. He should be a Cassandra warning us of what lurks around the next corner, or an Alzheimer’s victim whose wisdom is slipping through the hourglass.
What would it be like to wake up remembering the future and worrying about the past? How would we conduct ourselves if the promises and commitments we made yesterday were unknown to us, if the person we loved only remembered the past we were moving into and did not know the future we cherished as memory?
The premise of a life lived backwards raises all sorts of questions unasked by this pretty but incurious film. Still, it may prompt these questions and their discussion in its wake. So watch and wonder.