The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Director: David Fincher
Writers (WGA):Eric Roth (screenplay)/Eric Roth (screen story)
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton
The movie moved me deeply, but i would struggle to articulate why. It reminded me of Forrest Gump, but unlike Gump, it lacked clarity. Forrest ran. Benjamin? He just wandered… All the actions seem to end in non-consequencial ways, and everything felt at odds with each other somehow. Yet, I would still shed tears when i thought of certain details, such as when Benjamin came back to see Daisy in her studio and she showed up in his hotel room afterward, he said, “I’ve never stopped loving you.” When Benjamin and Elizabeth were walking in the snow at midnight hour, champagne in hand, she said, “If we are to have an affair, we will never say ‘I love you’.” However unsatisfying the movie felt as a whole, I still loved it.
When the light came out, and when the credit started rolling, i noticed that it was based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. I found that shocking. The story didn’t feel like a Fitzgerald to me.
In the evening, i dug out Fitzgerald’s short story on-line and read it. Aha, i was right. The original story reads just like a Fitzgerald. It was full of cynicism, and it was cold and depressing (I do love Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. But I’ve never cared much for Fitzgerald’s short stories). As if an English teacher gave an assignment, “Write a story about a man who was born old and grew younger by the day. His name is Benjamin Button, and his family is well off and in the ‘Button’ business.” That was all the movie had in common with the story, the name, the premise, and the family business. Everything else, all the stories, the warmth, the characters, were all original creation by the script writer.
I proceed to search and found the actual movie script by Eric Roth.
It was 1am in the morning by the time i finished reading the script. What a classic!
I finally understood what was missing from the movie and why i felt this barrier between me and the movie, the barrier that prevented me from being awed. What moved me was the script through and through. When the movie and acting lived up to the script’s brilliance, I was moved and in love. I really enjoyed the sequence of the magic hour of the Russian hotel “Winter Palace”
INT. KITCHEN, “WINTER PALACE,” RUSSIA – BEFORE DAWN, 1941
Elizabeth and Benjamin quietly talking…
BENJAMIN BUTTON’S (V.O.)
A hotel in the middle of the night can be a magical place…
And we see the empty front desk and tiny silver bell… The vacant lobby, with its musty old rugs… The open elevator, waiting… The dining room, with its crisp
BENJAMIN BUTTON’S (V.O.) (CONT’D)
A mouse stopping and running and stopping…
A mouse crossing the lobby floor doing just that…
BENJAMIN BUTTON’S (V.O.) (CONT’D)
A radiator hissing. A sink dripping. A floor creaking. A curtain blowing.
We see and hear it all… All the little sounds, a symphony, that make up life in a hotel in the middle of the night… Benjamin and Elizabeth sitting quietly
drinking their tea.
BENJAMIN BUTTON’S (V.O.) (CONT’D)
There is something peaceful, even comforting, knowing that people you love are asleep in their beds, where nothing can harm them…
…and the sequence of Benjamin and Daisy on their sailing trip and started the happiest time of their lives in the new duplex.
BENJAMIN BUTTON’S (V.0.)
I asked her to come with me…
What follows feels like a HOME MOVIE…without any sound.
EXT. THE FLORIDA GULF COAST – ANOTHER DAY, 1963
And we see the small sailboat out on the gulf coast…
BENJAMIN SUTTON’S (V.0,)
We sailed into the Gulf… along the Florida coast…
EXT. THE FLORIDA COAST, A COVE – DAY, 1963
Daisy and Benjamin on the sailboat at a cove on the Florida coast. They watch a ROCKET, soaring into space from Cape Caniveral.
As they watch it roar overhead, Benjamin marvels at its power…leaving its trail across the sky…Daisy, not so much interested, taking his arm, taking him back down below…
EXT. THE CARIBBEAN, ANOTHER COVE – DAY, 1963
Daisy washing her hair off the side of the boat.
EXT. THE CARIBBEAN, ANOTHER COVE – NIGHT
The boat anchored. Benjamin and Daisy sitting on the deck having a picnic with just a single lamp for light.
EXT. THE CARIBBEAN, ANOTHER COVE – NIGHT, 1963
The boat in still another cove. Daisy and Benjamin in the water. Just their eyes above the dark water looking only at each other.
EXT. THE BOAT – CARIBBEAN – NIGHT, 1963
Under millions of stars. Benjamin and Daisy making love on a blanket on the deck…
EXT. THE CARIBBEAN, AN ISLAND BEACH – DAY, 1963
Benjamin and Daisy asleep on a secluded beach.
I’m so glad we didn’t find one another when I was 26… I’m glad we missed…
Why do you say that?
It wasn’t right…
The barrier was Brad Pitt. Reading the script filled the gap left by Pitt’s acting. It is a love story that was filled with subtleties. Too difficult for him, i suppose. And why can’t he deliver his lines like a real actor (say, a british actor?), if it is not a voice over, he mumbled through them, and i was often at a loss in the theater. Swinton or Blanchett, on the other hand, didn’t miss a beat, they delivered their characters wonderfully, and on certain scenes, they did better than the script. They and the director carried Pitt’s character through, despite his lack luster acting. That was why i was still moved by the movie even though it felt unsatisfying. What a pity.
The script is not perfect though. Not sure why it has to copy Run Lola Run with the accident scene in Paris. Juxtaposed the random events that led up to that taxi accident with what could have been. It is a cute technique. But it doesn’t mix with the style of the rest of the movie. The randomness of events, or “collision course”, in their lives didn’t get mentioned elsewhere in the movie again, so the narrative doesn’t seem to go with the remainder of the story either. At the end, it became an odd piece. Maybe it was meant to mark the turning point of the story, but comparing to the ebb and flow of the love story between Benjamin and Daisy, it didn’t seem a particular special event worthy of this strange treatment.
The one twist of the story that really deserves some special movie technique but didn’t get any(i’m not complaining either) was Benjamins decision to leave. It was least explained. Benjamin’s reason was that he wanted Caroline to have a proper father. He wanted his baby to have a normal childhood that he couldn’t have. Maybe the unstated reason was he didn’t want her to suffer what he had suffered, because of his “curious case.” As a result, he deprived both the mother and daughter of himself, himself of them, too. He sacrificed his own happiness for a normal and, he hoped, a happy life for them. As a result, Caroline seemed “lost at 12” and remained so till she learned of her real father at Daisy’s death bed.
I want to argue that he should have stayed.
But that wouldn’t have made a great movie. Because i cried the most during the sequences when he wrote those unposted postcards for Caroline, and when he came back to Daisy’s studio when Caroline was 12. I cried harder after i read the script then when i was in the theatre.
Unfulfilled love makes great movie material, starting with Casablanca, Out of Africa, English Patient (hmm… all set in Africa?!)…
The tag line of the movie should have been, “Nothing lasts.” or “Somethings last.” Make your pick.
What moved me was the possibility of anything that might last, and the craving of it to last in all of us.