Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's This Business with Benjamin Button?

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I finally got to see this movie a couple nights ago, and I felt it deserved some reflection and commentary. As most of you probably know by now, the story is about a baby born as a tiny old man, and as he grows, he gets younger. It is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The story starts with a lot of promise. In fact, I loved the first third of the movie. It was long, a little over 2 1/2 hours, I believe. There is this fascinating opening sequence about a clockmaker during WWI who loses his son in the war. He is supposed to make a clock for the new trainstation in the town, and even Teddy Roosevelt comes to see the unveiling. When the clock is revealed, it is shown that it runs backward. He says this is because he wishes that all of the boys who died in the war could be safe again. And then he rows out to sea and is never seen again.

The clockmaker is never mentioned again, but I believe we are supposed to think the clock has something to do with the birth of Benjamin. It is a really sweet story at the beginning. Benjamin's mother dies in childbirth and his father is so horrified by him that he takes him away, planning to throw him in the lake (Lake Ponchetrain, I guess- it's set in New Orleans). He finally leaves him on the steps of an old age home, and a black woman who works there takes him in and raises him as her own child.

The first third of the movie works on every level for me. The story is great and the acting is on point. It is a beautiful thing to see the acceptance of Benjamin into this world of people who are in their last stages of life. They all think Benjamin is going to die soon, but instead he keeps getting stronger. Also, the acceptance of him by his adopted mother is lovely. She believes he should have life because he is one of God's children. Even Brad Pitt's acting, which I have never thought was particularly strong, especially in dramas, is really good during this part of the movie. Here, BB has the mind of a child in an old man's body, and Brad Pitt really seems to capture the childlike innocence and mischief of a ten year old boy.

After that, though, the movie takes a turn for the worse. Stay tuned for the rest of this review...


  1. I hate movies and books that do that--start out so well and then suddenly turn on you. I thought the beginning of Orson Scott Card's Enchantment was incredible. A boy sent to stay on his cousin's farm in the Ukraine goes exploring in the deep woods and catches sight of a sleeping woman on a pedestal in the middle of a pit. She's obviously been there so many years the pit has filled with leaves, and something scary is moving beneath all that debris. He runs away, and is taken away to America by his parents right afterward, so he grows up wondering about what he saw. It's haunting!

    Then suddenly everything changes tone and I never thought the rest of the book lived up to that beginning.

  2. Actually, how could a story that starts out like that, with an old man who just keeps getting younger, end well?