The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:
Multi-Layered Story of Love and Loss
In celebrating Black History Month and Valentine’s Day, let’s include “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a luminous fable of a man born at the end of World War I who ages backwards. The Oscar nominated movie’s inspiration is a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Educators might ask students to read the Fitzgerald story for classroom discussion tying it to the film.
Benjamin is born an old man and while others wither and wrinkle, his path runs counterclockwise, facing death years later in unblemished infancy. Director David Fincher and screenwriters Eric Roth and Robin Swicord have expanded the Fitzgerald story (necessary to make a full-length feature) and set it in New Orleans, spanning the years from World War I all the way through hurricane Katrina.
Brad Pitt plays Benjamin. Abandoned at birth because of his grotesque appearance, he is taken in by a tender New Orleans nursing home attendant, played by the radiant Taraji P. Henson, who loves him as a son. “You’re ugly as an old post. But you’re still a child of God,” she tells him. As his body grows up, he begins to look younger; in his early days at the nursing home, he looks 70 and seems right at home with the elderly residents. During his unusual but happy childhood there he meets his life-long love, Daisy (her name harking back to Fitzgerald’s “Gatsby”), a young girl who someday will be older than he. Daisy is played, while grown-up, by the beautiful Cate Blanchett.
But before they meet as adults, Benjamin heads off on a tugboat adventure with a tattooed captain, played by the irascible but likeable Jared Harris, and ends up fighting in World War II. Daisy, meanwhile, heads off to Europe to study dancing. When, after much time has passed, they finally meet up again, they realize their connection has remained. But their story does not end here: it only just begins.
This film is an elaborate, multi-layered fantasy. Throughout the story, Benjamin is a bystander. In a world in which people are constantly aware of their ever-diminishing youth, Benjamin faces a future equally devastating. In a final sad scene between Daisy and Benjamin, the film illustrates its theme of love and loss.#