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.