The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a Review
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, sadly, is many things—curious it is not. Not for lack of opportunity. Imagine the possibilities—a child who lives his life backwards…of sorts. Ignoring for a moment that both ends of Benjamin’s life had him cuddled at 21 inches—he really could have proved, well, curious. Imagine how differently he could live his life, having listened to and learned from the lives of those who can look back, morn, grieve, and reminisce. Would Benjamin (Brad Pitt) allow those reflections to shape him—to be the guiding wisdom that directed his life on a different path?
No. In fact, quite the opposite. Take away the man who was “struck by lightning seven times,” and the hand-me-down stories from the old-aged to the old-looking Benjamin are little more than tales of sexual misadventure, infidelity, and remarriage. There’s the man who was “married three times” and the womanizing Pygmy. There’s his adopted mother, Queenie, who isn’t married to her live-in boyfriend. There’s Benjamin’s real father, and Captain Mike, who both frequent a brothel.
In fact—sex is one of the all-too-common, non-curious, aspects of the film. There’s the British Consulate’s wife, Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), that ends up having an affair with Benjamin—an affair that has the ground rules of “never looking at each other during the day, and never saying ‘I love you.” There are the various women Benjamin beds during his “younger” days—in between his encounters with Daisy (Kate Blanchett). There is the moment when Daisy shares her near-lesbian encounters in order to seduce the simple-minded Benjamin, and the years on “the mattress” that Benjamin and Daisy spend in their better years. And then there’s Daisy’s late-life infidelity with Benjamin—ignoring her vows to her husband.
The only truly curious aspect of the film is the complete lack of consequence for actions. Captain Mike never suffers the Clap or any other sexual diseases—for that matter nobody does. Despite all the sleeping around, nobody ever gets pregnant—until Daisy gets pregnant to advance the storyline. There are no angry husbands who find out about a wife’s infidelity. There is no bitterness in Benjamin at being abandoned by his father—no bitterness at his waltzing back into Benjamin’s life in a far-from-transparent manner. There aren’t even consequences for the very old and dying Daisy, as she reveals to her daughter that the man she called father was not—and that she was the child of a man who lived backwards. There is no longing—except for just a moment, when a disabled young Benjamin watches with real curiosity children playing in the streetlight of a summer night. There is no evidence of emotional grief when love ends up…empty. No sorrow. No confusion. No guilt. No penalty. No consequences.
And that is as far as the curiosity goes. Take away for a moment the fact that this Benjamin—this “son of my right hand”—was born an old man, and this movie becomes quaint and common. Curiosity is lost. The chance to see a life lived differently is thrown away on the far too-common theme of promoting sex at the expense of marriage. Curious—that viewers are offered no answers to their own emotional realities, longings, consequences, and universal human experiences. That isn’t life. It’s science fiction.