As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Curious Cases

Posted by Hedwig on February 8, 2009

It’s been three days since I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and I still don’t know what to think about it. I found myself attacking the movie one evening, then defending it to someone else the next day. It has elements that got to me, almost despite myself, but there were also moments of annoyance, and of the 13 Oscar nominations it got, I think only the technical ones are deserved, and the one in the writing category especially is ludicrous, because the script is undoubtedly the movie’s biggest liability.

I feel like the bad (the cheap usage of Katrina for the sake of one beautiful shot, the empty romance, the dullness and earnestness of Benjamin) has already been sufficiently expounded upon by others. It’s true: the movie is heavy-handed, overlong, doesn’t really earn its emotional moments, and does too little with its premise. But there were moments that provided a glimpse of what this movie COULD have been like, and while David Fincher might indeed be an ‘auteur-facile’, he does a few things very well. And, well, I’m just going to come out and say it: the movie got to me, and for every moment of annoyance, there was a moment of beauty that almost made it seem alright.

For instance: can we talk about Tilda Swinton’s awesomeness? Her character is the most fascinating thing in the film, and that’s as much (if not more) due to her than to the way her character is written. She could easily have been seen as pathetic, or overly predatory, or a shallow sophisticate or, you know, simple. Instead, she seems to exist on a plane of her own, full of nostalgia and unfulfilled potential and humanity. 

The curious thing about this movie is that the main plot is so much less interesting and touching than the people on the periphery. I absolutely loved the prelude with Elias Koteas as Mr. Cake, I loved the man who got hit by lightning seven times (and the beautifully made, slapstick-style flashbacks), and while Captain Murphy verged on caricature (and the hummingbird stuff was groan-inducing), the part about him being an “artist” was kind of wonderful. 

It’s these side characters that make it impossible for me to just dismiss Benjamin Button (something my hip, sarcastic side would love to do). It’s the experiments with style that make it impossible for me not to admire Fincher’s skills. But as an exploration of mortality and aging, the movie simply fails, and ends with the supposedly uplifting (and patently false) statement that “it’s never too late to make something of your life”. 

“It is always too late to make something of your life”, on the other hand, would seem to be (one of) the message(s) of another curious movie about which my feelings are muddled, and which I just watched for a second time: Synecdoche, NY. I don’t want to say too much about it here, since I have a Muriels piece about it due soon, but while that movie, too, is deeply flawed, it is a much more complex, more layered, more daring piece of art, that strikes a lot closer to home, and manages to really make you uneasy about your impending doom. “Nothing lasts”, says Benjamin Button. But Synecdoche shows it. And makes fucking sure you feel it.


This has turned into one muddled post, hasn’t it? I guess my writing muscles are out of shape, or some other mixed metaphor. Or maybe I should blame it on how utterly unsettling Synecdoche, NY. is. In any case: check out Muriel! She’s awesome.


3 Responses to “Curious Cases”

  1. Superb examination of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Hedwig. I’m not a fan, for many of the same reasons as you. Also, I thought Fincher and Roth’s sensibilities meshed about as well as potato salad and hot fudge. However, I do agree with you about Tilda Swinton. The more time elapses after seeing it, the more I linger on that portion of the film. She’s fantastic, and it is a shame her role was so small, but perhaps the fleeting characteristic only enriched her presence.

    And I agree with you again about Synecdoche, New York. One of the few films from this most recent Oscar season that I’ve just about unconditionally loved. I too have to write a piece about it for the Muriels!

  2. This is a superb examination of the film for sure, and of the inevitable vacillating feelings that emanate from this weeping tapestry of a film. But alas, I must disagree with my very good friend Alexander on this one, has it sustains piercing emotional resoannce weeks after seeing it. It’s simply a beautiful film that digs profoundly, and criticisms almost seem beside the point. Those “people on the periphery” indeed Hedwig. They are part of what make this film so memorable and deserving of its Best Picture Oscar bid.

  3. Pierre de Plume said

    “But as an exploration of mortality and aging, the movie simply fails”

    Your observations, Hedwig, are similar to mine on this film, though I’m a little kinder to it in the final analysis. It seemed to play with depth much of the time — point to it, talk about it — but did not convince me it was there. I agree about Swinton.

    Regardless, I really appreciate the tone and beauty of it and found many things to enjoy, as you did.

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