Friday, January 09, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I hate "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." I hate it because it could have been good, and instead it was so terribly bad.

In a brilliant essay, Isaac Bashevis Singer scathingly remarks, "As a child, I was glad that I was told the same stories my father and grandfathers heard. The children of my time didn't read stories about little ducklings which fell into kettles of soup and emerged as clay frogs. We preferred the stories of Adam and Eve, the Flood, the people who built the Tower of Babel, the divine adventures of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. We were never taught to rely completely on any authority. We tried to find motivation and consistency in God's laws and His commandments. A lot of the evil taking place today, I often feel, is the result of the rotten stuff this modern generation read in its school days."

As he so beautifully explains in his essay, stories are built on logic. Events could have happened in the way that you have described. Even when it comes to magic or the supernatural, there are certain laws one must play by. Demons have chicken feet and cannot hide them. There are certain curses one cannot perform. There is an element of the forbidden for every element of the magical. In short, there is a sense of give-and-take, of structure. Since everything could have happened, it becomes believable.

In the case of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," believability is not the problem. I have no problem suspending my belief when it comes to the fact that a man could have been born old. My problem has to do with everything else that transpired. This baby just happened to have been dropped off at an old-age home so that his childhood as an old man would be perfectly natural? His father just happened to meet him when he came home from his tugboat spree, recognized him and took him out for drinks? His father conveniently dies relatively young so that Benjamin can inherit his button factory and never really have to work? Are you kidding me? And most of all- where is the response of the press?

If somewhere were truly to have been born old, it would make all the papers. The newspapers would react. There would be a scandal. Scientists and doctors would kidnap the boy and pickle him, prodding him with needles and medicines. Everyone would want to try to figure out how this had occurred- a genetic mutation? Something else? The movie was smart in that at the very least it tried to provide an answer to the nice black woman who decided to take care of Benjamin; she believed in her preacher and the preacher blessed the boy. But is the filmgoer really supposed to believe that everybody else who lived at that point in time said nothing about this peculiar man who grew younger instead of older? Nobody breathed a word? Nobody tried to exploit him?

Hell! That's not real life; that's completely impossible! You want to tell a story; you've got to explain why none of those people said anything. Now, if they remarked on it and they weren't believed because they were old and senile, that'd be one thing. But nobody tells the press, not one of the men on the tugboat who notice this old man growing younger say a word? Nobody sells him out? The circus doesn't kidnap him; there's no freak show going on? And when he goes from five years old to a little baby- are we to believe that nobody notices, or is it again that somehow, strangely, no one lets out a peep?

This is aside from the completely implausible idea of an old man working on a tugboat, and far more importantly, for a drunken captain to get up 0n a Sunday morning just to take an old man and his young companion, a little girl, out for a spin. That would never happen. So let's establish some ground rules: There has to be some sort of structure to a movie, some way of having it make sense, rules by which it works.

I'll tell you what would have been a good movie. We have an example of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" where people react with the appropriate shock and horror, including the media; he's big for a while, people call him a freak, a demon, a Satan-like monster, and then it dies down because he goes away and people think he's dead, or something to that effect. Or where the old people at least try to tell somebody even if they aren't believed, or he has himself tested by a doctor to try to figure out why he's different from anyone. But nobody just lives their life calmly and peacefully, with none of their neighbors ever interfering, when they are that different. To suggest that is to completely suspend human nature and human character- and that is not something you can ask your movie audience to tolerate.

The movies are a labaratory for the soul. It's where we can place ourselves in the body of the man or woman onscreen and think about their choices; do we agree with them, do we disagree? But there have to be rules. There cannot be an endless series of coincidences, happenstances, overly convenient situations; the director can't have it both ways. Either I completely suspend my belief in anything, and all the laws governing everything break loose- in which case pigs start to fly as well- or, if it's my normal human world with my normal human people, events must progress in normal human fashion, with all the logical repercussions. This film was done poorly; it was a mix of logic and complete and utter non-logic, and did not respect the viewer for that very reason.

This is aside from the fact that the scenes with the daughter reading to the mother and finding out about her father in this way, fraught with tension because of the imminent arrival with Hurricane Katrina, were unsatisfying and unnecessary. As was the daughter's complete lack of reaction (why the hell isn't she more unwilling to accept this diary as being truthful?) And we never receive an explanation as to why the mother put off telling the daughter for so long, and while the daughter advances that she hopes her mother isn't disappointed with her, we don't find out what the daughter has done, or hasn't done, which makes her mother likely to be disappointed with her. The end of the movie is completely inconclusive, in that the daughter runs out of the room in order to try to find out what is going on, the mother dies, and everything blacks out.

This movie should win absolutely no awards at the Oscars; it was a good idea, poorly executed, poorly written, and ridiculously developed. It had the potential to be something great, something that could really resonate with people where we could feel for the pain of this old man trapped in a young person's body, something along the lines of "The Elephant Man" or "The Phantom of the Opera," where people are given talents they can't express due to their physical form. Instead, it was a flop, a complete, utter, and total, utterly pointless, flop...and it was the worst kind of flop because of what it could have been if only the screenplay had been written by a half-competent screenwriter.


Anonymous said...

I felt absolutely drained after 167 minutes of watching it. A really dull movie!

Anonymous said...

I think that I love you.

The Rashblog said...

I agree. I liked the idea, and I thought the acting was fine, but there were so many huge flaws that made it disappointing.

I absolutely hated the interludes in the hospital with the diary, and considering the movie was nearly three hours long, they could have been cut out.

The ending was utterly horrible. Plus, going with your logic argument, I'm lost as to the "rules" behind his reverse aging. He was born as an old baby, so he should die as a babyish man. In other words, when he was born, he should have been the size of an old man on his death bed, not the size of a baby. Either that, or when he died, he should not have been an actual baby, but a baby the size of an old man. The beginning and end of his life are inconsistent with one another.

Anonymous said...

I may not have seen the movie dor I plan on it, but you know the movie is based on a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald by the same name?

David_on_the_Lake said...

Did you read the original story by Fitzgerald?
It bears almost no resemblance aside from the name Benjamin Button and the fact that he gets younger.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

you should see Defiance instead :-)

Miri said...

ah good, I was wondering if it was based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald story. The thing is, he doesn't really address the complications of the reverse-aging thing, but he definitely takes into account the reaction of the world to Benjamin's strangeness. A major theme of the story was how Benjamin's father was ashamed of him his entire life. Also, I think he was born as a fully formed old man, not an old looking baby, and as he got younger, his body changed to fit that reality - meaning he "died" as a baby, unable to walk talk, and weighing about 8 pounds. In any case, it was Fitzgerald's only attempt at science fiction, and I think we can see why.

Tzvi Feifel said...

I saw the movie last night and liked it a lot. Unfortunately, though, time does not permit me to go through your various points and refute them, which I suppose in some way makes this comment absolutely worthless. That being said, I gotta be honest with you Chana - it sure sounds like you have an axe to grind.

Anonymous said...

it was a little weird to see an old version of Brad Pitt's face pasted onto a kid's body, but i guess that's why they call it a "curious case"

Anonymous said...

There are more of us Button Loathers! Please come and join the fight to keep this epic turd from winning an Oscar.
The latest addition to the site: downloadable Button's Buttons to help spread the word that it's best to say "No To Button"
The Official Anti-Benjamin Button Club

Anonymous said...

I have watched this movie and liked it.The story is so different.If anyone is thinking to
download the curious case of benjamin button movie
then hit on the link and start downloading it.

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