Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking.
Length: 166 minutes
Grade: CD?B=C
Budget: $167 million (almost exactly $1 million/minute)
Box Office: $376 million (127 U.S., 205 Intl., 44 DVD)

Written by: Eric Roth (Good Shepherd, Munich, Ali, Insider, Horse Whisperer, Postman, and Forrest Gump) and Robin Swicord (Jane Austen Book Club, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Practical Magic), based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Directed by: David Fincher (Zodiac, Panic Room, Fight Club, The Game, Se7en, and Aliens 3, which I’m sure he’d like to forget)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormond, Tilda Swinton, Elle Fanning, and Taraji P. Henson.

This is a fictional biography of a baby born with all the bodily characteristics of an elderly man who then ages backward over the course of his life of many varied experiences.

Entertainment Value: C
Pace. Slow. No reprieve. To me, this was a movie that could have been extremely good, but in the end the combination of what seemed like a squandered brilliant concept and some very distressing plot developments heavily counterbalanced brilliant acting and cinematography. I wanted to like this movie much more than I did, but apparently lots of other people really loved it. It received 13 Oscar nominations including best picture, best director, and best actor and won 3 minor awards. On the other hand, I found it long, not quite “There Will Be Blood” long, but still pretty long.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity D, Violence D, Language D+, Illegality C
Given that there isn’t any actual frontal nudity, D may seem harsh, but this movie is full of sex, lots of sex, seriously, lots and lots of sexual scenes. There is some war violence including a fairly graphic death scene with blood. Later there is a car accident which maims a woman, and a man is shown humorously being struck by lightning several times. Language is right at the upper end of PG-13. I would go R-15 at least for this.

Significant Content: ?
I didn’t get it. I’ll admit the fact. I didn’t get what it was intending to say, and I didn’t get what it was trying to do with several of the devices, including the clock. That being said, there are some messages I heard. We’re meant to lose people, which is how we know how important they are to us. We must not hold onto our anger. We have no control in life because it will do whatever it will do. Nothing lasts. Even an ordinary life can be interesting. Sexual morality is just individual opinion.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
The high mark is for beauty and emotional effect. In spite of disliking and not understanding a lot of what this movie was doing, I cried a lot at the end for reasons I can’t quite explain. I guess it was the tragic nature of the relationship at that point. But there was one point in this movie where I really hated the main character for a major decision he made. I mean hated him. I thought it was far from selfless and truly misguided. Also, I know this movie was predicated on the old Daisy letting her daughter tell us this story, but the problem is that they made the old Daisy so incomprehensible when she spoke that I got frustrated with her and the sound editing. In the end, the lingering sense I got here was that, other than aging backwards, Benjamin Button’s life was completely ordinary. So why make a 166 minute movie about it? Still, the “butterfly effect” scene was brilliant in its own right.

Discussion Questions:
~To what degree do we actually grow younger when we grow older?
~The doctor says, “Some creatures aren’t meant to survive.” Do you agree?
~Which do you think would be better, to age as we do or to age backward like Benjamin? Which would be better for the people around you?
~Do you believe that our lives are a product of destiny or fate, or do our choices really make a difference? Do you believe in the “butterfly effect,” or do you believe that the major events in life are unaffected by the minor events in life somehow? Does God oversee nothing, the big things only, or everything?
~Button asserts that losing people and the pain that comes from that is the only way we know how important they were to us. Do you agree?
~Movies and news tend to cover extraordinary people and events. Are some lives more interesting than others? Do you think that every life is interesting? Are there any elements of your life which you allow to make your own life less interesting than it could be?
~What was the point of the reverse-moving clock in this movie?
~Is it noble or virtuous to keep secrets from people for their benefit which they would want to know?
Overall Grade: C
Nothing lasts, which is a shame. But the fact that nothing lasts also meant that this movie did finally come to an end, which I did not mourn.

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