How would life be if you were to age backwards? How could you sustain a normal relationship? These are among the questions pondered in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en), Button stars Brad Pitt as the title character, whose story is told in a series of flashbacks. The love of his life, Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is in the hospital dying with her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormand) by her side. Daisy asks Caroline to read from Benjamin’s diary, which she had kept all these years. Daisy tells Caroline a story of a blind clockmaker who was working on a clock for Grand Central terminal in New York. After his only son died during World War I, he continued to work on the clock, finally revealing it with Theodore Roosevelt in attendance. What the unsuspecting crowd didn’t know, was that he designed the clock to go backward, so that the soldiers who lost their lives might have a chance to live again. Perhaps Benjamin was living proof his clock really worked?
The movie then cuts to New Orleans during World War I where Benjamin was born. His mother dies shortly after childbirth, but asks his father Thomas (Jason Flemyng) to make sure he has a place in the world. When he looks upon the baby, he is shocked to see he has the appearance of a man in his 80s even though he was a newborn baby. Distraught, he runs off with Benjamin, eventually leaving him on the steps of a retirement home where Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), despite the protests of her husband, takes him in. A doctor examines him and determines he doesn’t have long to live. Queenie, who is unable to have children, takes him in, as he is still one of God’s children.
While Benjamin was a child, he still looked elderly, yet often acted as a child would. He was about seven when he first met Daisy, the granddaughter of one of the people at the home. It was his first crush and she realized that even though he looked older, there was something about him that made him seem like a child. The pair instantly bonded.
As a teen, he sets off to sea to work on a tugboat, where he reveals to Captain Mike (Jared Harris) that he’s not as old as he looks and that he’s never been with a woman. After Captain Mike takes him to a brothel, Benjamin’s father spots him leaving and realizes it is his son. He takes him out for his first drink, never revealing who he is.
After returning home from another tour on the tugboat – this time to help with the war effort during World War II – Benjamin encounters an adult Daisy who is now a dancer in New York. She attempts to seduce him, but he declines, leaving Daisy crushed. A few years later, realizing his error, he goes to New York to see Daisy, only to find she now has a boyfriend. He later gets a message wired to him that Daisy, now in Paris, has been hit by a taxi and is in the hospital. He goes to visit her, but she sends him away, not wanting him to see her like that.
As the years go by, Benjamin’s appearance keeps getting younger and he now looks like a man in his 40s. He eventually reunites with Daisy and they have a child together. After a few years though, he tells Daisy he needs to leave before their child knows him as he wants her to have a father, not a playmate and that Daisy could not take care of both of them. Daisy initially misinterprets this for Benjamin no longer being attracted to her as she was aging while he was getting younger. It’s a heartbreaking scene as he clearly loves her, but wants what’s best for his child before he himself becomes one. Yet, what will happen to Benjamin in his final years?
In keeping with the Criterion Collection’s usual high standards, Button comes with a second disc loaded with extras. Among these is a three-hour documentary about the making of the film entitled The Curious Birth of BenjaminButton, trailers, and stills galleries. Disc one features a commentary from Fincher.
The central theme of the film is that nothing lasts forever and to grab your opportunity when you can. It is a well-acted story of two people who, regardless of what else was going on in their lives, never stopped loving each other.