Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In the process of creating something new and different, consideration must be given to how the pieces are going to fit together. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was written as a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1921. At the time the story was written, it reached back to 1860 and ran the story forward from that point in time. The screenplay, which was written by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord tells a very different story than the original. I often find that screenplays find a way to cheapen or shortcut original stories. I believe that this screenplay took an excellent concept from F. Scott Fitzgerald and created an entirely new story from the original. The screenplay told an exceptional story.

The movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button begins with the birth of a child on the day the Great War ended. The child’s mother dies in childbirth. His father panics upon seeing that the child appears to be an old man, leaving the child on the doorstep of a nursing home (along with a ratty seventeen dollars). The child is found by one of the housekeepers who rears the man-child as her own, in spite of warnings from a staff Doctor that the child does not have long to live.

As Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) witnesses the normalcy of death in his nursing home environment, he is exposed to many truths about life. The wisdom of aging forgotten people impresses him with many important lessons. As the younging process begins, Benjamin becomes exposed to the world. He meets a young girl Daisy (Cate Blanchett) who seems to see beyond his age to the young Benjamin inside. The two strike up a lifetime friendship that causes their paths to meet and cross. The intersecting story never seems to turn itself parallel, as the two progress through life in different directions. For a brief period of time, the two “meet in the middle” and are able to journey together for a very short time. While it appears that fate wants them together, it seems intent on keeping them apart. But a birdie told me that they would eventually find each other for eternity.

The writing in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was prodigious. The elements of the story are carefully crafted to bring concepts together in a tightly woven manner. The interlacing of story-lines created a complex story that worked on two levels. The subtleties were not difficult to grasp, either. The character development engaged the audience with vibrant characters that contained dimension. The sub-plots provided essential details in developing the overall theme of the story. Although very different from the original version, the screenplay managed to create an intricate enjoyable plot that shifted enough to be unpredictable. Excellent dialogue and interesting characters rounded out nothing less than writing perfection. It may be a very difficult challenge when creating a set of rules out of thin air. But it appeared a momentous task that was met with visible tenacity and intellect.

One of the writing elements that appealed to me above the originality was the gentle use of sub-plots to tie together the larger themes. There is a point in the film where Benjamin is being advised on the proper way to eat caviar. A small morsel at a time so that you can savor it…and still have some. That concepts seemed tied into many of the smaller plots. The writers used a hummingbird to explain the concept of eternity. A ship’s Captain (Jared Harris) that befriends the young (or is that old) Benjamin admits that he really wanted to be an artist. He used that talent to tattoo a hummingbird on his chest. The hummingbird represented the Captain, who explained that a hummingbirds wings form a figure-eight…the symbol for eternity. Upon the Captain’s death, Benjamin observes a hummingbird, noting that he had never seen one that far out to see. The hummingbird comes to represent eternity in this manner, giving it more meaning later in the film. Other small tidbits of developing storylines that come one morsel at a time involve lightning strikes and a woman (Tilda Swinton) swimming the English Channel. I do not want to give everything away so I will leave it at that. It is refreshing to see writing that so carefully employs the use of building blocks in creating intended meaning.

Read more about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

1 comment:

Kevin said...

I'm surprised no one else picked up on this, but I see the figure eight as a visual representation of the lives of Benjamin and Daisy. Picture the figure eight as being drawn on a graph, where the Y-axis is perceived age and the X-axis is elapsed time. You'll see that one part of the figure eight is Benjamin, the other is Daisy, and they do indeed intersect for a short time in the middle.