Movie review: “The curious case of Benjamin Button”

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) is a fantasy drama and love story directed by David Fincher about a man who is born an old man, and who grows younger as he ages. It is very loosely based on a short story of the same name by F Scott Fitzgerald, which you can incidentally read here in its entirety – you will notice that the movie is very different to the original story in many respects, but the central themes have remained the same.

Benjamin Button (played by Brad Pitt) explains the central theme of the movie in the trailer:

“My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everybody else was ageing, I was getting younger, all alone.”

Although the main premise of the movie – that a child can be born as an old man – is implausible and fantastical, it is a moving and beautifully crafted story, well integrated into the history of the 20th century. It was a pleasure to watch, even though the fake ageing and youth-creating make-up used on the main characters was a little obvious. And Brad’s fake Southern drawl was more than a tad annoying at times! But despite these flaws, it’s worth watching.

(Please don’t read the rest of this if you still want to watch it; I don’t want to spoil the story for you.)

The story is narrated by Benjamin, and told through the diary that he kept throughout his life. He has given this diary to an 81-year-old woman (Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett with tons of make-up but nonetheless recognisable), who is lying on her deathbed in a hospital in New Orleans. Her 37-year-old daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) is at her bedside. Daisy, after many years of keeping secrets, feels compelled to share her life story with her daughter, and gives Caroline the diary to read.

In it, Benjamin tells of his birth in 1918, at the end of World War II, when his father – horrified at the sight of a baby that looked so ancient and frail – abandoned him on the steps of an old age home. Here, a black woman by the name of Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) finds him, and – unable to have children herself – adopts him as her own. Benjamin grows up surrounded by old people, who die one after the other, while he surprises everyone by growing stronger and healthier with each passing year.

He meets a little girl, Daisy, and the two of them fall in love, despite their strange, chronologically distorted relationship; their friendship and love endures, even though they only share a comparatively brief time together, throughout their entire lives. Both struggle to deal emotionally with the fact that their relationship is ultimately doomed, because Daisy will die of old age, while Benjamin will become a small child. In the end, Daisy reveals to Caroline that Benjamin was in fact her father.

A more detailed synopsis can be found here.

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