Monday, 1 March 2010

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher, USA 2008

The Curious case of Forrest Gump

Button has all the makings of an Oscar winner: an iconic, heart-rending backdrop in the form of the hurricane Katrina, a tragic love story between two beautiful people at the centre, misty and nostalgically beautiful imagery, and, last but not least, a loving and caring African-American mama at the heart of the story which - with Obama now president - may amplify the story’s resonance with the audience. Or so Fincher thought.

And yet - what does the film actually tell us?

Not having read Fitzgerald’s short story on which the film is based, I can’t know what he himself has to say about a man who is born old and grows gradually younger - what prompted him to write the story in the first place - but in Fincher’s film at least, there doesn’t seem to be any point to the story at all other than, perhaps, that there is only a short time in the relationship between two people when their love is at full bloom, when they are, in fact, fully compatible - at precisely the point when their ages cross in his process of getting younger and hers of getting older - and that what comes before and after is best forgotten. Even that, however, seems a moot point since it didn’t require a story like Button to point that out, and much less one that comes along so heavy-handed and that takes itself so seriously.
There are only a few moments when the film really comes to life, when it sheds its seriousness, and when all of a sudden it doesn’t matter anymore whether the story makes sense or not because it has discarded its self-importance and pompousness and taken on the mantle of a light, beautifully told, fairy-tale - and that’s when Tilda Swinton makes her appearance, adding some much needed spice to Fincher’s tedious, stale and overly long film.

As if to inject some ‘deeper meaning‘ to the story, Fincher has thrown in a little reference to Run Lola Run (Germany 1998) by speculating on what might have happened if … (and here I deliberately refrain from further elaboration as this will spoil the film for future viewers). This scene, however, seems totally disjointed from the rest of the film and certainly doesn’t add anything to further its story, let alone really inject it with ’deeper meaning’. The same goes for the ending, where in a sudden burst of philosophical deliberation, Benjamin dwells on the meaning of life for each individual.

One cannot help thinking that if Fincher had simply stuck to recounting an old-fashioned, conventionally told, love story rather than trying far too hard to be meaningful, he might have had a film, particularly when taking into account the considerable talent he had at his disposal. As is, Button comes across as a pretentious, hollow, experience that will only be remembered for its similarities to Forrest Gump (USA 1994), another film where the hero stumbles through American and world history with similar detachment, although, for all its sentimentality, Zemeckis’ film has a lightness which Fincher’s film doesn’t.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is out on DVD.