Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Curious Case of the Benjamin Button Down Mind

I like David Fincher. Not as a person. I mean, he could be perfectly fine as a person, even if there are rumors that he's a jerk. (It's not like those rumors don't fly around for just about every great director.) But I don't even know the guy. Cut me a break. How the hell should I know?

But I digress.

I mean to say, I like his direction. As a streak, Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room and (arguably) Zodiac is up there with the best directors of all time. (I think Panic Room is under-rated.)

Maybe the best thing you could say about this movie is that it doesn't seem like it's two hours and forty-five minutes long. That's a pretty good thing to say about a movie (unless it's 90 minutes long, I guess).

It's basically an episodic story about a man who is, sort of, growing younger, and the problems this causes in his life. It doesn't really work, in a mechanical sense, but it's okay dramatically.

Mechanically it doesn't work because it's clear from the start that he just looks old. Physically, he's supposed to be afflicted with all these old-age conditions at birth--yet he goes through puberty after about 12 years of being born. The aging is sporadic, as well, the movie settles him in to middle-age to soon and keeps him there too long. (One plot point revolves around him getting "too young" but he looks about 40.) In his youth, he becomes afflicted with dementia, meaning that he ends up having old-age problems both coming and going.

And he's not living backward in time, a la Merlin, either. So he's completely inexperienced while looking 70 but has a lifetime of experience while looking 20.

Dramatically, it mostly works, except where the murky mechanics raise questions, and a sort of "well, what's the point, then?" feel. That is, how is this story significantly different from someone aging normally? It really only provides one major plot point that comes when Benjamin and Daisy finally get together.

Well, and it does provide the gut-punch at the movie's end. (Think about it.)

Lord knows I don't need--or even want--a message movie, but this movie does sort of play around with it. There is a message here that Benjamin understands and Daisy only "gets" when it's practically too late: That there is worth in loving others and being loved, and that worth transcends worldly things and--in good people--selfish interests.

Yeah, it's not exactly rocket science, but it works for me.

Your mileage may vary. (What do you think? Good catch-phrase or no?)


  1. I really love "Zodiac." I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it. Is there a review in your archive?

    I like "your mileage may vary"

  2. Somewhat off-topic, but what the hey: I saw "Fight Club" because my grandson was quite taken with it, that is, he took it seriously. I watched it, growing increasingly disturbed, until near the end, when I said something like "Oh, I get it now! It's a comedy!" I then had to explain the concept of black comedy to him, which led him to take some offense, as he did not think it funny at all. But that was years ago.

  3. Knox,

    I do have a review of Zodiac, but it's not here. I'll dig it up and post it.

  4. Hector,

    Fight Club is one of the greatest black comedies ever. Maybe it won't age well, but I'd put it ahead of Dr. Stranglove or Wicker Man or any of the usual entries in the "black comedy" genre.

    There is a lot of truth to it as well, but that's always the case with a great black comedy, oh, like, Network.

    I think the book was meant as a satirical (even predictable) attack on '80s culture, but having been made in the '90s puts it out of the obvious political moorings and lets it stand on its own. (American Psycho is not so lucky.)

    It helps to watch it a second time knowing the ending: You can then re-evaluate all the characters' actions and, more importantly, sanity.


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