I went to see this the other night and while the case may have been curious, Benjamin Button certainly wasn’t. About anything.
I should probably post a SPOILERS warning about here, but I genuinely don’t think it’s possible to spoil the story in this case. However, if you haven’t seen the film yet and think you might like to, look away now.
And keep looking away for the rest of the post.
Come back tomorrow. There might be some funny swearing by then.
I’m sure most of you know the film’s about Benjamin Button, a guy who’s born old and grows younger. Fair enough, sounds interesting. The story, on the other hand, is about a guy who’s born old and grows younger … for three fucking hours.
And that’s it.
For three hours, a man gets younger on screen.
He has no interests, no desires, no wants, no needs, no … curiosity about anything at all.
For me, a good film gets me asking questions – that’s how I engage with a movie. Who did it? Why did they do it? What’s going to happen when x meets y? And most importantly of all: how’s he going to achieve … whatever his goal is.
And there’s the problem (for me, anyway. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, just I didn’t care) – Benjamin Button has no goals. He just is.
There’s an inevitable comparison here with Forrest Gump – partly because it’s the same writer, but mostly because it has all the same components: a totally passive protagonist in the deep South to whom things just happen. A boat. A flighty girl who’s the focus of his obsession there sometimes. A long passage of time. War. Big house. Single mother who dies … it’s cut from the same cloth.
The difference is, interesting things happened to Forrest. He’s a passive guy who accidentally finds himself in some of the major events of the second half of the twentieth Century. He also has a goal – he loves … whatever Robin Wright-Penn’s character was called. Jenny? Yeah, Jenny.
So imagine Benjamin Button as a Forrest Gump if he never saw anything interesting and didn’t really care if he got the girl or not.
Put it this way, I actually went to the toilet during the film – something I never do for fear of missing something. In this case I didn’t really think it would be a problem. When I returned I asked my mate just in case:
“He got a bit younger.”
The most telling line of the film for me came when the trawler tug Forrest Benjamin was working on got drafted into WWII – ooh! What’s going to happen now? How will war change him?
Then came the line. Something like:
“I didn’t really see much of the war.”
Oh. Brilliant. I’m glad they filmed that. Imagine if I’d gone the rest of my life not knowing Benjamin Button didn’t really see anything during the Second World War?
Okay, so shortly after that he does get shot at and everyone except him dies. Or maybe there was someone else who survived. It’s hard to say. There was a really interesting Captain, Brad Pitt in a lot of make up and then a load of nondescript people in jumpers. Most of the jumpers got killed. Maybe. The Captain definitely did, which was a shame because I liked him. He seemed like fun.
Tilda Swinton’s character – she seemed really interesting. I’d like to have known more about her – but didn’t get the chance.
Which is really what this film’s about. Benjamin Button meets some interesting people … and completely fails to be changed by them. He just meets them. They’re interesting. He’s not.
We meet his daughter in the first scene – but she doesn’t find out she’s his daughter for two and a half hours. What a revelation! A character discovers something we’ve known for hours.
Shortly after this she stops reading Benjamin’s journal (“That’s the last entry.”) and my mate started picking his coat up and checking he had everything. “That’s what I thought,” chimes in … whoever the love uninterest is “but then I got a phone call.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake!” opined my mate as he settled back in for another thirty minutes or so of watching someone get younger.
I’m not saying it’s not well filmed or acted – just there’s nothing which held my interest.
No, that’s not true. There are plenty of good bits – the story about the clock, the lightning guy, the bits about whats-her-name getting run over – but none of them feature the protagonist. Can you even call him a protagonist if he doesn’t do any pro-ing? Is he just a tagonist? Or maybe just an ist?
Films with no unity of time are hard to pull off – part of the reason I don’t really like bio-pics is people rarely have one goal for their entire lives and the more you try to show, the less interesting it becomes. The more successful ones (for me) pick short periods of someone’s life and show them trying to achieve something.
Watching someone from birth to death without them ever really paying any interest in their own lives is … boring.
I like everything and everyone surrounding Benjamin, and if the intention was to show how people can live their whole lives without ever really getting involved in the world around them then … well done. It certainly achieved its goal. Because that’s the impression I got – there was probably a really interesting film happening just out of shot.
Still, other people seem to like it so I probably just missed the point.
Can someone explain it to me, please?