For the next few weeks I will be briefly examining the works of David Fincher, as preparation for The Social Network. Today, I am examining an interesting addition to his body of work, a somewhat misunderstood piece. It is a piece of work that is tempting to dismiss as over-ambitious and underwhelming, but one with sturdy artistic grounds. I think we can all agree that the film is a feast for the eyes, but I want to argue that it is an emotionally profound film, that is quietly appreciative and very personal in analyzing life-long struggles. The film is of course, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and with this piece, I want you to keep one word in mind: perspective.
While many critics stood to applaud the glory of Fincherâ€™s most recent cinematic achievement, many held strong reservations towards the films narrative, and with good reason. For this reason, rather than put forth a traditional review, I will attempt to assess why many felt the way they did and why I feel differently.
Â I felt, going into the film, that there were two common misconceptions. The first misconception is the expectation that it was to be a tragically romantic epic, a sort of modern day Gone with the Wind or Casablanca. The trailers enigmatically, but not entirely misleadingly constructed this perspective. The film lives up to itsâ€™ advertisements but in an indirect way. The film is not an epic; it is a quiet story of one manâ€™s life. That said, it is tragic and romantic. The film is, with a few scenes serving as exceptions (the opening World War I scene, the hurricane, World War II), not told on a grand scale. It is a character study, but one less focused on the personality and behavioral attributes of Benjamin Button than of his lifelong predicaments. And by that I mean much more than his reverse aging. The important point being, a story that defies expectations should be praised and not condemned, and it is not a flaw to focus on the small-scale individual rather than grandiose drama.
The second misconception was the thought that this would be in some way a reimagining of Forrest Gump. In some respects, it actually is. Initially, screen writer Eric Roth pursued adapting the sequel novel, Gump & Co. He presented the script to Robert Zemeckis shortly after September 11, 2001. Looking at the script and itsâ€™ happy-go-lucky, â€œfloating like a featherâ€ theme, the two agreed the film was no longer relevant in a post 9/11 world. Not long afterward, Roth wrote The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This is the Forrest Gump sequel that is relevant in this day and age. Darker, and less lyrically preachy, I would argue that this version offers deeper insight. It could be called a companion piece to Forrest Gump, but the connections are limited due to the overall tonal differences. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not an uplifting, life-affirming story; it is a more honest assessment of an individualâ€™s capabilities and downfalls. Rather than light-hearted entertainment, Benjamin Button is dark and haunting. But optimism has no correlation to a filmsâ€™ quality.
At this point, I have explained what not to expect going into the film and not what I saw walking out of it. Walking in with no expectations largely affected my perspective the film. When I saw it in theaters, I quickly leapt to the same conclusions that many others did. Perhaps I was persuaded in advance by their reviews. But seeing it again with a fresh slate has changed my perspective and removed my misconceptions of the filmsâ€™ narrative. This is not to say that it is a perfect film, it is far from perfection. Eric Roth has written a beautifully structured screenplay, but one whose dialogue occasionally falters (i.e. the scene in which Benjamin and Daisy awkwardly decide to have consummate their physical relationship for the first time). Despite the occasionally awkward dialogue however, I think the film offers legitimate insight to growth, development and outward perceptions of life. I do not believe, as many do, that the film lacks substance or focus. Many argue that the film runs in many directions, but never winds up anywhere, never makes any claim or point. They also argue that nothing can be learned from aging backwards, since we, ourselves, do not. However, I think the lack of clear moral in the movie is itsâ€™ greatest strength. I think when we get to the end of our lives, we all start to wonder why it all happened. But just because we donâ€™t have a good answer, doesnâ€™t mean the journey wasnâ€™t worth it. At the end of this film, I felt moved and satisfied with the journey; I canâ€™t expect much more from a cinematic experience.