Laurelin's Light

Random Thoughts from a Confessed Film Snob

06 February 2009

Critique - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Pt. 1

Thirteen Oscar Nominations not withstanding, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a mess.

But before I dive into serious criticism, I want to share two snide thoughts which came to me while watching the film.

1) Was Benjamin uncircumcised eight days before he died?

2) If Benjamin aged backward and Daisy aged forward, shouldn't their daughter have aged sideways?

And - before we get serious - Jon Stewart's opinion of Benjamin Button:

So, what's my problem with the movie? There are quite a few actually, which I will divide up into three major categories, each with its own post: Benjamin's character itself, the inconsistency of the main conceit and the awkward storytelling structure.

Benjamin Button: Prick

As the protagonist of the film, it is natural for us to empathize with Benjamin and to subjectively see him as a positive character. But if we look closer at the choices he makes and at the way he treats other characters, we have to objectively admit that he is a bit of a scumbag.

Although I have moral problems with the act, I'm willing to overlook his visit to the brothel. After all, what young man has not made stupid decisions because of his libido?

But when he turned 18 he walked out on his family completely. He literally walked past his sister without even looking at her, let alone saying goodbye to her. He did not keep in contact with his family. He did not let them know where he was, how he was or if he was even alive. They could not even contact him to tell him that his adoptive father had died.

And it was not only his family whom he snubbed. He didn't bother to say goodbye to Daisy either; she had to come running after him.

Then he commences to take up with a married woman. We're supposed to believe that they fell in love with each other by staying up all night talking until dawn night after night. Which rings false for three reasons:
1) adultery is adultery is adultery and "falling in love" does not justify it,
2) if he was staying up all night every night and working all day on the tugboat when did he sleep?
3) what exactly were they talking about? She might have assumed that he was in his 60s, but he had no life stories to share with her and he certainly did not share his peculiar secret with her.

During the war, one of his shipmates states that he has been watching Benjamin and knows that he can trust him. He then promptly hands his life savings over to Benjamin (in case he doesn't make it through the war). But, having one character state that Button is a good man does not automatically make it so, especially since the only purpose which that particular scene served was to reveal that the unlucky redshirt was going to die in the very next scene.

Back from the war, Benjamin meets up with Daisy the Dancer again. And now she's hot to trot and anxious wants to spend the night with our hero. But he turns her down, which does not fit in with the character we have been watching for an hour and a half. He has no problem bedding whores and married women, but he won't touch an incredibly sexy dancer who wants him? I don't buy the argument that he cared too much about her to have a fling, since he did not care enough about her to say goodbye when he left, keep in touch while he was gone, or look her up when he returned.

Ok, time passes, stuff happens and Benjamin and Daisy finally end up together ("meeting in the middle" - *gag*). Then she finds out that she is pregnant, she has a baby, and Benjamin abandons them both. The film tries to sell this betrayal as an act of selflessness, but that's a simmering crock of shit. What is his excuse for leaving? He's growing too young? Please. As a father with growing children, I wish that I was growing younger so that I would have the energy to do all of the things my kids want to do. And if I happened to look as young as they did at some point in my life? Great! They might not be embarrassed to hang out with me when they are teenagers.

Because of how the film was sold, we the audience expected him to grow from an old man into a baby and since we knew this was going to happen, it was not a stretch for us to assume that Benjamin knew what his fate would be as well. But how could he? The "fact" that he was born with an old man's ailments and slowly grew out of them into a normal middle-aged man in no way necessitated that he would keep growing younger and eventually become a baby. For almost three hours the film had been trying to sell us the trite moral "You never know what's coming" and yet its dramatic turn is based on the assumption that Benjamin knew exactly what was coming.

But even if we allow that Benjamin knew his body was regressing, does that excuse his behaviour? If I were to desert my family and claim that it was because I knew I was getting old and I loved them too much to force them to take care of me 15 years from now (and, by the way, once I left them behind I was going to travel the earth and "be what I might have been"), no one would think I was being selfless. Benjamin was a deadbeat dad, pure and simple, a selfish prick.

Now, I have no problem with unpleasant protagonists; some great films have been made about unsavory characters (the title character in Barry Lyndon and Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood spring instantly to mind). The problem lies not in that Benjamin is selfish and spineless, but in that the movie pretends that he is not. We're told by a number of characters that he is a good man, but we never actually see it. And the film dares to have Daisy tell Benjamin that he was right to leave her, that she could never have "raised" him, too. (As if a 60 year old in the body of 16 year old needs raising.) That was the most offensive part of the film: having a neglected woman condoning the actions of the man who abandoned her to raise a toddler on her own.

(The next two sections of my critique should follow shortly.)


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