Death and all associated conundrums are given adequate screen time in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, director David Fincher's ode to human mortality. Structured in way that makes it an oddball combination of the time spanning storytelling of Forrest Gump, the deathbed weeping of The Notebook and the strange fantasy of Tim Burton's Big Fish, where the film loses out by being very conventional in structure and tone, a rarity for the maverick director, it more than makes up for by the depth of its storytelling.
Fincher's diverse, edgy body of work makes him a strange choice as director of Benjamin Button, with this films big, weighty themes and emotional centerpiece better suited for someone like Ron Howard, but Fincher uses both restraint and a colourful visual palette that allows him to explore different eras with his usual captivating blend of skill and panache. The film may sound morbid, funny or both, which it is – Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born as an old man and gets younger each year. He learns to first walk, then stand upright by shedding his gaunt figure and eventually finds his graying hair turning blonde. As he ages, and therefore turns better, he sees the people at the old age home where he lives, along with his adoptive mother, eventually die one after the other. Leaving behind family and his childhood love Daisy (Cate Blanchett), Benjamin ventures on a proverbial journey of self discovery, allowing the film to explore the concepts of time and change, giving it the feel of a pseudo biopic. None of this would be believable of course, if not for some fantastic makeup and special effects, which allow not only both the leads to look graceful when aged (or in the case of Brad Pitt, when made younger), but also convincingly pull off having Benjamin seem an old man in a child's body during the first act. This of course is also a testament to the quality of the performances, all uniformly excellent.
Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eric Roth's screenplay tremendously expands on the brief but intriguing premise to not only fully flesh out the character of Button, but others, while adding many layers and metaphors. The film introduces an assortment of people, perhaps too many, and the very frequent interruptions of the story from the past into the present, where Daisy lies on her deathbed, become more unnecessary and irksome as the film progresses. This individual plot thread in the present, which no doubt needlessly pushes the running time at just under three hours, is not just detrimental to the films otherwise glorious rhythm, but is forcibly also made relevant by being set in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina's onslaught. Such blatant sentimentality hampers, though never completely dissuades one from being in awe of the overall film which ends gracefully, intelligently and on a not so unexpected emotional high. - Faizan Rashid